Returning to Our Roots with Arnot Forest

Primitive Pursuits has always been about bringing people back in contact with nature. We do this through the discovery of wild edibles, identification of bird song, the creation of fire, dirty hands, lighter hearts, and long days outdoors. After 15 years of different habitats and locations for our programs, we’ve found a home with enough stability to allow our students to more deeply explore the “wild” than ever before.

In April, 2016 Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County finalized a lease with Cornell University for the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, and we at Primitive Pursuits will serve as the lead coordinators for the usage of the land. The Arnot is grander in scale than any of our previous locations, boasting 4,075 acres of mature forest, sugar bush, grasslands, softwood, and old field. Combined with three adjoining State Forests, the Connecticut Hill State Game Management Area and other private lands it is the largest contiguous wilderness area in the Finger Lakes region. The Arnot Forest Field Campus provides 13 cabins, a bathhouse, main lodge, and other outbuildings.

With residential cabins, and a communal lodge we have a space to invite and connect with aspiring nature educators from around the world. Along with a physical space to grow in comes the opportunity to offer long term, immersive, programs focusing on wilderness skills and mentoring. The Forest Campus will be the site of our weeklong Overnight Camps for teenagers this summer (ages 11-15), and the main location for our 9-month adult Wilderness Year program.

As we at Primitive Pursuits have dug deeper into the history of Arnot, familiarizing ourselves with our new location, it increasingly feels like we’re not only creating a home, but rather returning home. The Arnot Teaching and Research Forest has been owned by Cornell since 1927, although research programs were done there as early as 1914. Cornell students and professors have used the Arnot for long terms studies on the growth patterns of different tree species, wild bee populations, sustainable timber harvesting, maple syrup production, and soil erosion patterns to name just a few. Additionally the Arnot is a local go-to for hiking, skiing, hunting, exploration, and various outdoor training programs.

In 1948 the first annual 4-H Conservation Leadership Training Camp was held at Arnot. This program’s intention was to teach young boys the basics of forestry and wildlife conservation. That camp became coed in the 1960’s and continued to run annually through the early 1980’s. It is exciting that with the reemergence of Primitive Pursuits on the scene, the Arnot gets to return to its history as a 4-H learning space, while simultaneously becoming a more abundant wilderness.

With such a long history of regrowth, teaching, research, and wildlife conservation, the Primitive Pursuits tribe is feeling absolutely at home there. As the forest returns to its original state and its tree roots are able to grow deep, we look eagerly ahead to our own plans for community roots that spread wide.