Our Mission -
 The Wilderness Institute History

Our Mission

The Wilderness Institute's mission is "to provide wholistic adventure-based therapeutic training and wilderness experiences that teach outdoor skills and safety, foster community building, promote interdependence, enhance self-efficacy, increase resiliency, promote environmental sustainability, and inspire others to protect the Earth while improving our quality of life."

For Editorial Background
The Wilderness Institute History
(a non-profit 501 (c) 3 corporation)

Established in 1984, The Wilderness Institute grew out of the need for people to experience nature first-hand, to expand an understanding of the interrelationship between people and the environment, and for personal growth experiences in a wilderness setting within the new Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area coastal range in southern California.

This "Outdoor Adventure School" for the public and special groups has provided recreational, educational, and therapeutic enjoyment while increasing outdoor skills, ecological understanding, and backcountry safety for thousands of participants. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Sierra-Nevada’s became program sites for learning wilderness skills, inspiring environmental awareness, outdoor safety, and gaining personal growth through nature immersion outdoor adventure experiences.

The Wilderness Institute initially offered courses for youth groups, schools, and the general public in Natural and Cultural History, Hiking, Backcountry Skills, Mountaineering, Aquatic Sports, and Cross-country Skiing through its Wilderness Guide publication. It then expanded its services to offer a variety of specialized therapeutic programs for women only, men only, families, youth at risk, and other special population groups, including a corporate team-building focus.

In Spring 1985, The Wilderness Institute put on the first annual Wilderness Fair. Over two thousand people were in attendance (inclusive of people with disabilities) for the festivities and experiential learning as representatives from The Wilderness Institute, National Park Service, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, State Parks, non-profit environmental organizations, and private outdoor recreation industry provided over 50 exhibits, activities, and displayed their goods and services annually.

This successful event expanded to become part of a regional Earth Day celebration, acknowledging environmental awareness and Earth preservation. As partners in sharing resources and giving the public an introduction to outdoor adventures and nature education, The Wilderness Institute has continued to participate in annual Earth Days and other special events, fairs, and expos with its signature Mobile Rock Wall!

In Fall of 1985, The Wilderness Institute created the first Wheel to the Sea special event, serving people with physical disabilities. Participants and volunteer “pushers” traveled down a 4 1/2 mile trail through the Santa Monica Mountains, celebrating their accomplishment with a barbecue at Sycamore Cove State Beach. This biannual event is co-sponsored by California State Parks, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, and Kiwanis Clubs of Thousand Oaks, Canoga Park, and Northridge and is currently serving over 400 wheelchair participants and volunteers each year.

These programs were the beginning of a series of special events put on by The Wilderness Institute for the general public and disabled community as part of our Wilderness Wheelers outreach program for people with physical disabilities. In the following years Aquatics Day -Canoeing, Kayaking, Sailing, White Water Rafting, Rock Climbing (for the blind), Adventure Ropes Courses, Beach and Tide pool Discoveries, and Evening with the Owls were among other successful events.

In Spring of 1986, the T.L.C. Executive Experience seminars began. Highlighted by the Adventure Ropes Course, General Telephone employees experienced a series of dynamic, experiential team-building activities. The day's activities culminated with each member of the team climbing a rope ladder high into the trees, crossing a series of ropes and cables, climbing up wooden pegs, and finally leaping for a trapeze suspended in the air! This exciting seminar was part of a week-long training program. The goal was to stimulate individual growth, develop teamwork, and enhance leadership skills, ultimately increasing productivity. This successful seminar has expanded to serve hundreds of organizations in building "high performance teams" as part of our Corporate Services division.

In Fall of 1986, The Wilderness Institute expanded its outdoor educational programs for youth into a comprehensive Youth Services division. A wide variety of educational programs were provided to public and private schools, scouts, summer camps, "Youth-at-Risk" and other youth groups. The Institute also customized special Earth Day (Birthday) Parties for children. These events helped to make these special days both fun and exciting while offering hands-on education in nature.

The Golden Eagle Club Membership program has offered an active role for participants who wish to get more involved volunteering in support of our educational efforts through trail maintenance, park clean up projects, and wheelchair outings for people with physical disabilities. Membership dues also help enable us to offer these special service and environmental programs and to provide an opportunity for fun social gatherings in nature that develop camaraderie and build a sense of community.

In Spring of 1989, The Wilderness Institute moved from the growing city to The Outdoor Center, a cozy house nestled in a grove of trees, located in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills. It marked the introduction of a new series of courses with a theme of Cultural History and Country Crafts. Courses included Mountain Man Skills, Gold Panning, Paper Making, Basketry, Quilting, Weaving and more! The Outdoor Center served as a place for environmental community meetings, pre-trip orientations, nature displays and live animal exhibits, and multi-media presentations.

Also home to The Trading Post retail guide shop, it has provided members and participants the tools, resources, and equipment for enjoying and learning more about each wilderness skill area and natural and cultural history offered for instruction. As a "collection of books, wilderness travel items, posters, and Wilderness Institute clothing for sale", mail order and course packages have been available as an educational service and as a fund raiser in support of our community services. In addition, ropes curse and rock climbing “Adventure Gear" was available for purchase by organizational clients.

Wilderness Preservation and Advocacy During this time the Canyon Guides (volunteer naturalists) were formed to help educate the public and save Cheeseboro Canyon site (within the Santa Monica Mountains N.R.A.) and the adjacent Palo Commando Canyon, commonly known as Jordan Ranch, from development. Through guided hikes, special events and public awareness efforts, The Wilderness Institute was an active partner in helping to save these pristine wildlife habitats from a Bob Hope Luxury Golf Course development!

Other environmental issues were also addressed and the Institute continues to support open space and park-land acquisition, public trail access and accessibility, and to defend wilderness areas and wildlife habitat from unnecessary development.

In 1993, the Institute moved to administrative offices in the Two Oaks Professional Building. Remaining in Agoura Hills, the "Gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains", the relocation allowed for greater facilitation in administration of programs and the expanded publishing of the "Wilderness Guide"- a free catalog of courses, adventure outings and Eco-Tours distributed to over 50,000 members and the general public three times each year as part of our public services division.

Our Youth Service program, Experiential Education: "Adventures in Learning", included one day "Outdoor Classroom" experiences, Wilderness Challenge adventures, Adventure Center residential camping, and extended Wilderness Expeditions. The Wilderness Institute has responded to the needs within the community of the increasing problems of youth crime, drug abuse, and street violence. Rotary Clubs Intl. were partners in sponsoring the "Rotary R.O.P.E.S.", Rotary Outreach Programs Enhance Self-Esteem program for "at-risk" youth. In cooperation with Las Virgenes Unified School District, LA County Sheriffs Department, and local city government, this Wilderness Challenge program involved the whole family, school counselors, and volunteer mentors.

Our “Adventures in Building Life’s Experiences (A.B.L.E.)” was a similarly successful program serving at-risk teens in Ventura County and in cooperation with the Conejo Recreation and Park District, City of Thousand Oaks, Conejo Unified School District, and the Probation Department. While focusing on teaching “life skills”, this program provided a series of adventurous outdoor activities such as rock climbing and ropes courses, combined with camping and mindfulness nature immersion, to help build positive interrelationships, learn effective communication skills, gain healthy decision making, and empower teens to believe in themselves!

Our Experiential Events offerings continued to reach out to serve the public and groups at fairs, community events, and private parties. Our Mobile Ropes Course, Adventure Climbing Tower, and hands-on Children's Eco-Workshops traveled to many special events and public expos to provide an outreach of adventure education and environmental awareness which served over 20,000 people annually.

As leaders within this outdoor education industry, The Wilderness Institute also provided consulting to summer camps, parks, scouts, hospitals, universities, and others who operate Adventure Programs. Our AdventurePro consulting services include Challenge Ropes Courses and Rock Climbing Consulting in site development, installations, inspections, equipment sales, Crisis Management, and instructor training for group leaders. The Institute was one of the first providers of Ropes Course construction and training services in California and has trained several hundred instructors over the years and installed over 30 Ropes Course and Zip Line projects!

Castaic Lake Aquatic Center- Sailing, canoeing, and windsurfing programs

Mt. Pinos Cross-Country Ski Center- Snowshoeing and Cross-country Ski classes

Fundraising Call Center –Support for our Wilderness Golden Eagle Membership Club!

In 1998, The Wilderness Institute moved its administrative headquarters to the historic foothill community of Auburn, in Northern California, "Gateway to the High Sierras". Eagle Mountain Resort and Del Oro Camp and Retreat Center were two locations of our Adventure Centers for Experiential Learning serving school groups.

Our Southern California facilities included the Camp Gilmore and Mt. Crags Conference Center, located in beautiful Malibu canyon and adjacent to Malibu Creek State Park, within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Mobile Adventure Programs traveled to various sites and wilderness outings and offer a wide variety of customized learning opportunities for the public and groups.

1998 Auburn Regional administrative office and retail center
2002 Colfax High School Challenge Course facility and programs
Student Mentorship Program
Anti-Bullying Education Program
Outdoor Leadership Program
Drug Reduction Program

2005 Wilderness Lodge and Meeting area, Heather Glen, CA
(Veterans Outreach Program established)

2007 Sierra Higher Ground, Colfax, California
After School program (tutoring/instruction)
Senior Citizen Computer skills training
HighLAN and internet games and business webinars
Indoor Rock Climbing Gym and recreation program
Cave Maze Adventure

2011 Shalom Institute and Conference Center, Malibu, CA (Southern California location for operations and retreats)

2015 Relocated to the Rocky Mountains Front Range, Lyons, Colorado (and)
2016 Peaceful Valley Resort and Conference Center as our new home-base!

Since 1984, we have served over 100,000 individuals including hundreds of organizations, schools, and businesses. We are partners in working within our community to promote adventure-based experiential learning in a natural setting, environmental awareness, personal growth, and to promote wilderness preservation and trail access.

The Wilderness Institute is committed to creating meaningful opportunities for people to expand their personal horizons, enhance their quality of life, and to contribute to our environment through action.

"Participation in Wilderness Institute programs is a way of gaining greater appreciation for the outdoors and respect for the environment, learning to appreciate your community and enhancing teamwork, while learning more about your own capabilities.

Learning in nature offers an atmosphere of fun, support, and growth. Participants experience a holistic approach to learning which encompasses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components of self-discovery."

Bradley Childs, Founder and President The Wilderness Institute, Inc.