Sunday, May 9, 2021
[adrotate group="1"]
[adrotate group="1"]
[adrotate group="1"]
[adrotate group="1"]

Monthly Archives: May 2013


It’s ironic; Trackers is a wilderness skills program, yet for many of our camps we get on buses and drive places. Many are near, within 15 minutes, some are far, taking a little over 45 minutes to get there. Yet there’s a very good reason for this method; sometimes you just have to get away from the city. Think about it as a “School Bus Time Machine,” transporting our students from the urban environs to a more primitive time.

Years ago, when we first moved into our Portland headquarters, we were very excited to be next door to Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge. We had the opportunity to trail deer with kids, and even play stealth scenarios in the woods, right in our backyard!

Of course, we were always careful. Some activities were good fits for a wildlife refuge, some were not. I had always assumed tracking was a good thing, even a great one; it provides wildlife information and builds awareness about local parks. But to really understand the animal, you have to go off-trail. You have to walk the way it walks, moving silently with the rhythm of the birds singing, pausing every time a trail braids through the meadow, sensing for every shift in the wind.

Yet going off-trail is understandably not okay in a public park. Imagine if the vast numbers of people in Portland did it, if mountain bikers, hikers, joggers, dog walkers, and everyone else said, “well, if the trackers can run these dirt paths, so can I.” Soon the wilderness would be crisscrossed with innumerable trails as more and more people forged their own way.  It wouldn’t be healthy for the land. And we aren’t going to claim that we have some special privilege to run off trail when everyone else shouldn’t.

So, back we went onto the asphalt trails.

The same thought process is applied to most skills we teach. We do them in a low impact way, we can even do them in a way that helps restore the landscape (i.e. pulling invasive ivy for baskets), but we can’t make everyone so responsible. And even then, the folks that manage the parks may not have the same experience with our skills that we do. Because they literally have hundreds of thousands of people to deal with, it would be impossible for them to make informed exceptions for every person, organization, or bullfrog hunting kid out there.

So what can you do in the 142-acre park directly across the street from our Portland flagship? Mostly get out the binoculars and go birding from the asphalt trail. Sigh. There are very good reasons you can’t make a campfire, can’t build a shelter, or even pull out a carving knife and whittle. The entire populace of Portland potentially using one place force regulations on what was once natural human activity.

Trackers is better at adhering to the regulations than most programs, and even goes above and beyond the requirements whenever we can. We teach complex skills with modern standards of safety and care. I would put Trackers methods toe to toe any camp our outdoor program out there, but even the label “outdoor survival skills” can carry false assumptions I often have to address.

This is a good shelterFor example, a couple years ago a rather upset ranger visited me from an “Unnamed Parks Department”. He had found a rope swing out in one of the parks, and assumed it belonged to us. I sincerely responded that we don’t build rope swings, and that he might want to check in with the neighborhood kids.

Then there was the occasion where a different “Unnamed Parks Department” emailed us pictures of some truly slapdash shelters someone left up in the woods, thinking they were ours. This has actually happened with quite a few different parks, as we are the most prominent survival school in the area. I kindly let them know our students would never build survival shelters that looked so awful and were so nonfunctional. Ours are made with care and thought; check out the one in the photo above. In one case the shoddy shelters were left by another primitive skills school; in another, it turned out to be the actual camp program ran by the park itself!

These are some of the reasons we often use private sites in more rural areas. They are why we have to drive. Sometimes we work with local landowners to create outdoor classrooms, and lately we have been able to buy and put into conservation our own properties. How we manage these natural areas is all about people showing love for a place through hands-on work. The latest example of this is our Rangers Apprenticeship clearing debris from roads and handicap access trails to build their survival shelters. They perform a service project and also sleep in “piles of organized leaves” as rite of passage.

That is how we cultivate these places into havens of old school skills; we train in ways that actually restore a piece of land. They are sanctuaries where kids can step off trail, light campfires, build shelters, and shoot bows. They are about a reciprocal relationship with earth.

But what about the wilderness in the city? Are we leaving it behind? No way, we still use Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, but very judiciously. There we observe, serve, and watch. But unless we only want to talk about fire, we need to get in a bus and go for a 30 to 60 minute drive. It’s an unavoidable reality.

So by the end of this rant, you might wonder what I’m advocating for. First, we have to respect our local parks and why these regulations exist—even empathizing with the park rangers who work hard dealing with all of us in the random public. Second, we need nearby wild spaces where kids can truly explore as kids and responsible organizations can teach heartfelt wild ways. Will that happen immediately? No. It’s really hard to save enough pennies to get more land. Plus, the land is disappearing fast. We’ve look high and low for places closer into Portland.

So here is my plea. Can you help us? Can you let us know if a local landowner wants to host Trackers camps on their land this summer and beyond? We have best practices for proper insurance, permitting, and safety. We even have the funding! Our experience can help landowners to accomplish this with not only our organization, but other camps and outdoor programs doing such important work.

My Hope, Your Help…

I am making a personal plea, as the Founder of Trackers, as an educator for over 20 years, and as a father who knows the importance of free-range kids. Contact Us if you want to help create a network of citizen managed natural areas that can host inclusive outdoor skills programs in Portland and beyond.


Tony Deis
Trackers Earth, Founder

Featured Programs

Ages 9-17 B.P.R.D Training Camp July 29-August 2 Trackers is proud to partner with Dark Horse Comics for a camp that takes you through the mythic and epic comic book universe of Hellboy. Trainees team up with experienced Agents and take on an anchent and malevolent foe bent on taking over the world!


Ages 10-15 Kayak Adventure Camp Offered throughout the summer  Travel the waterways of Portland in our traditional hand-built kayaks. Learn to balance, paddle, safely recover from tips, knots, and many other nautical skills in this awesome Mariner camp. We provide the Kayak  you bring the sense of Adventure!

Community Picnic & Archery Tournament

Join us for an amazing day in Sandy, Oregon. The entire Trackers Community is welcome to help celebrate the graduation of this year’s Rangers Apprenticeship. Our teens will help teach traditional skills workshops to visiting families.

What Bring your family and a potluck dish. Trackers will be BBQing hot dogs for everyone. Picnic, Rangers Apprenticeship Gradutation, Archery & Horseshoe Tournament

Who Hosted by the Rangers Guild

When Saturday, June 1, 2013, 11am-4pm

Where Bull Run Educational Center, 41515 SE Thomas Rd, Sandy, Oregon 97055 (in the campground)

RSVP or just come hang out!


The ability to light a fire with one-match in any weather is an important survival skill.

Once upon a time, our Jr Rangers Apprentices gathered wire-thin twigs from a very special tree (can burn even in wet conditions).

This tree is the Western Hemlock Tree (no real relation to the bane of Socrates—that was a plant).

They then scraped off the wet bark of the twig bundle with the back of their knives.

Even rolling it in the dust of a rotting cedar stump to further dry the ends of their tinder.

Upon striking the the match head, they tilted it down so the flame caught the wood of the match.

They then lit their tinder bundle from the bottom. Drawing it along the shaved ends of the twigs,

Finally they rotated the tinder so every twig caught.

Carefully opening the hand holding it to add airflow or or closing this hand to condense the bundle to better spread the flame.

After setting it upright against a rock or stump, they built their tipi fire by placing thicker twigs around it.

The End

Grown-ups can do this too! 9-month Rangers Wilderness Immersion

Featured Youth Programs

Ages 9-17 B.P.R.D Training Camp July 29-August 2 Trackers is proud to partner with Dark Horse Comics for a camp that takes you through the mythic and epic comic book universe of Hellboy. Trainees team up with experienced Agents and take on an anchent and malevolent foe bent on taking over the world!


Ages 10-15 Kayak Adventure Camp Offered throughout the summer Travel the waterways of Portland in our traditional hand-built kayaks. Learn to balance, paddle, safely recover from tips, knots, and many other nautical skills in this awesome Mariner camp. We provide the Kayak  you bring the sense of Adventure!


Featured Adult Programs

$67 Bow Making Basics May 28 & 30, June 4 & 64-evenings  Learn to craft your own bow out of locally harvested materials. We cover how to hew wood with simple blades and knives for wilderness survival and more. We focus on wood crafting skills with simple tools and symmetry in all wood craft.


8-month Archery Immersion 1-weekend a month immersed in the sport and art of archery. Our instructors provide expert coaching in archery fundamentals while bridging into more advanced skills.


$5 Open Archery Range Saturday, May 18, 12pm-4pm Come shoot at the Trackers open archery range in SE Portland. Every Saturday we offer a comfortable and fun place for family and friends to hone their archery skills. Also, check out our Family Training Session for 11am-Noon.

Tracking is the art and science of Paying Attention to the details, both large and small, and using this awareness to find hidden aspects of the world most people miss. Good Trackers can find a set of prints, human or animal, and follow them over any ground. Great Trackers can tell you what this means to health of their woodland, forest friends, and village.


The basics of blacksmithing began with learning safety. Safety in the shop, safety with tools, in safety by fire. The flow of the shop in working with your colleagues teaches more than just blacksmithing. Learning to use tools focused intact, channeling all your capable strength, his skill applied not only by your hands but also how you interact with the world.

Trackers Earth Camp

Plus, forging your own tools, whether it be a knife for survival skills uses or a Hori-hori  for the garden, creates more than extensions of your own hand and arm, but also of your heart. Blacksmithing is a trial by fire. It can be a journey of self-reliance and resilience.

Learn more about our Portland blacksmithing workshops, including knife and Hori-hori making, plus blacksmithing basics for those just starting out on the Blacksmith’s Workshop page.


By Travis Neumeyer, new Hand/COO of Trackers Earth

I’ve been sending my kids to Trackers since they were old enough to go. I’ve had to participate vicariously through them for the last four years. Somewhere along the line, Tony (the founder of Trackers) and I started talking. We talked about staffing, parents, and kids. Dune, Firefly and Lord of the Rings. Building a better summer camp, one that both transcends and includes the foundations of camping. A better model for the industry, a way to save the world.

My daughter returns from Trackers telling me about the boys she snuck up on and defeated in battle. When we go for a walk in Forest Park (my front yard), my son eats miner’s lettuce and oxalis. They both boast about their stick throwing and archery skills. When I go to the Scout Pit for a Final Friday, they are immediately at home, practicing their bow-drill, firing arrows in the archery range or spinning yarn.  Running around and being kids, all while learning, practicing and playing games.

Now I get to go to Trackers too. We are coming home.

Travis-with-kidsI grew up in the woods, half-feral perhaps. I am intimately familiar with a certain landscape and every summer I go back. This is what I want my children to have, I want all children to have. The self-confidence that comes from knowing how to find their way home from wherever they are, because they know the general direction your home is in and when they get close, their personal landmarks guide them home. From knowing the plants in their landscape, like friends, which ones taste good, which ones are bad for them, and which ones might not taste good but could help them survive.


Part of what makes Trackers special is that we harness the power of play and games in learning.  In more traditional societies, children ‘played’ with bows, knives, and young livestock, learning and practicing how to be useful. Having fun, while paying attention. The bows they used were appropriately sized. The knives appropriately sharpened. I send my kids to Trackers for the skills they learn, but also the way they learn it.

I believe a teacher’s role is to create a space where learners learn. Too often we take that away from the learner by telling them what to do, how to do it and why. In our very attempt to teach, we rob them of their own learning. One way to create that space is to insure the natural consequences are understood and kept in a very narrow, safe but powerfully instructive zone.

In know from my personal experience and my experience as a parent that knife safety is internalized when you know you can cut yourself with the knife. This is the same zone of flow that happens just outside of our comfort zone, where we learn best – where we are fully engaged and aren’t quite overwhelmed. Trackers does that incredibly well. The safety policies built into Trackers curriculum insure that powerful educational moments are created, and our children develop skills faster, remember what they learn better and have more fun because of how Trackers staff treat them and the world around them.

Trackers Instructors model the skills they teach, provide constructive feedback in a direct, efficient way, and most of all let our sons and daughters try, fail, learn and try again. We will make sure that your children, and mine, don’t come home with cuts that will leave scars, or spend time in the emergency room instead of having fun. We will also make sure they truly learn something useful.

Trackers is the program I have wished I was running for the last 10 years. I wouldn’t be ready for  Trackers if I hadn’t had those experiences, I am grateful for them and the people I’ve gotten to work with, but in the back of my mind I’ve always thought, “we could be better,”  “we could have more fun,” “we could save the world.” Trackers is constantly working to be better, have more fun, and to save the world. Each family that participates in Trackers is part of our village. A village where play teaches important skills, skills that are the healthy part of humanity’s resilience.  A village where no one will ever need to go hungry or be bored because they know how to flow with the gardens, the wilds and the hedgerows.

Make it so.