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About the Program

Five core principles guide August Wilderness and its educational mission.  Students often leave their weeks in the wilderness with a strong sense of these principles and pride in being part of a long tradition of Earlhamites.


Started in 1971 by a small group of Earlham faculty members dedicated to the value of experiential education, August Wilderness is one of the oldest and most respected pre-orientation programs in the country. It has been featured in a book on the history of outdoor education and several college review publications including a recent story in US News and World Report.

August Wilderness is run by the Outdoor Education program and is one of the flagship EPIC experiences available at EarlhamWith a focus on linking the liberal arts to the real world, EPIC represents students, faculty and alumni collaborating across disciplines and curricular/co-curricular events. Students interested in continuing with outdoor, experiential, and environmental education are encouraged to take courses and participate in activities offered through the Environmental Leadership Program at Earlham. 

An Early History of the August Wilderness Program

1968-1970 Discussion about the idea of a Wilderness Program by faculty members Doug Steeples (History), Cam Gifford (Biology), Dick (Math), and Chuck Martin (Geology).  Grant proposals are written.  Faculty members attend both NOLS and Outward Bound courses including Margaret Lechner (Education), Bob Southard (History), and Randall Schrock (History), among others.
1970 $100,000 grant is received from DeWitt Wallace (Reader’s Digest) for staff training, purchase of equipment, and establishment of the program.
1971 First August Wilderness course takes place.  Mountain Wilderness began as an annual offering.  The Uinta Mountain Primitive Area (later Wilderness) is chosen for a combination of instructional merit (natural and human history), relative proximity to Indiana, and low usage by other groups.
1972 Water Wilderness is introduced as an annual offering.  The International Falls/Dryden area of SW Ontario is chosen as the course area.
1973-1974 Winter Wilderness begins as an annual offering: renamed Southwest Field Studies in 1975.
1977 Bicycling Wilderness is offered.  Due to low participation, the course is not offered again.
1977 Water Wilderness is moved to a new course area in Armstrong, Ontario due to the construction of a new logging road in Dryden that reduced the wilderness quality of that area.  Water Wilderness now takes place in and around Wabakimi Provincial Park.
2017 August Wilderness is now in its 47th year of operation and has helped over 1,800 students transition to Earlham College.

Core Principles

Viewing obstacles as challenges to be overcome. Actively seeking out opportunities to learn and to push oneself outside the "comfort zone." Living life in a "positive state of non-expectancy" — allowing for appreciation of the trail magic that can come from being present and aware of the adventuresome potential of each moment

A connection to the land we are traveling through such that we are not just tourists or passersby but, rather, we become changed by our relationship with the land and its stories. As modern life increasingly separates us from such relationships, the principle of gaining a "sense of place" on wilderness trips reminds us that this value is critical toward the creation of a personal and a larger community-based environmental ethic.

Servant leadership is defined as the ability to think of others through the acquired skills of listening, observation, awareness, empathy, acceptance and foresight. It is the difference between caring "about" something or someone and "caring for" it. It is an active behavior that happens in lots of little ways. A servant leader constantly thinks about how to help his or her group in small and big ways. A servant leader is also aware of "giving back" in small and big ways to the people and the places he or she experiences. Finally, a servant leader understands that knowledge and experiences acquired have moral consequences and leaves changed as well as committed to working toward putting that change into service.

Kurt Hahn, the founder of Outward Bound and one of the central figures in the field of outdoor and experiential education created the 7 Laws of Salem which were his goals for operating his first school in England. One of his 7 laws was to "provide periods of silence, following the great precedent of the Quakers. Unless the present day generation acquires early habits of quiet and reflection, it will be speedily and prematurely used up by the nerve-exhausting and distracting civilization of today." Hahn wrote that in the 1920's. The art of contemplation and reflection is what brings meaning to our lives. It is also fundamental to the kind of deep and rigorous observation and scholarship we value at Earlham. On course, there will be many opportunities to practice the contemplative spirit.There will be "small" moments, for example, it is common to begin major meals with a moment of silence. There will also be "larger" ones like silent paddles and hikes, reflective solo's, and observation activities.

Simplicity and simple living is comprised of two parts: inward simplicity and outward simplicity. The two are, of course, connected. Inward simplicity can be defined by the priorities and goals that you have in your life and how you make decisions about them. Outward simplicity is how you manifest those priorities and goals to the world. Wilderness courses are all about simple living- both inwardly and outwardly. You carry everything you need on your back or in your canoe. You eat simply but heartily. You will have a minimum of possessions and "modern" distractions. This outward simplicity, we hope, will encourage inward simplicity- allowing you to reflect on what is truly important to you and how you want to go about "walking joyfully on this earth" as George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends" once famously said.






 Mountain _oldmap

Newspaper _72

Water _70s _group




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