A People's History of Project Wild
In 1974 Project WILD (Wilderness Initiatives for Learning at Duke) was established with the institution of a pre-orientation trip for incoming first-year students. This was begun in response to a "perceived need at Duke for a program that would improve some of the impersonal and stifling aspects of university life." The program took the North Carolina Outward Bound school as its model, adopting many of NCOB's philosophies and programs to suit the specific perceived need at Duke. Since then Project WILD has gone through many changes and seen many adventures. The following is meant to be an honest attempt to scrape together the clues, from the bottom of the filing cabinet to the oral accounts of those who have since left us, and chart a path for the staff who seek to know, down which this thing we call Project WILD has come to us.
In 1972 Dan Meyer of the North Carolina Outward Bound School helped coordinate an Outward Bound course that would be available for mainly Duke students. Later that year a course emerged which consisted of 32 Duke students and 14 UNC Chapel Hill students. Some of the students returning from this experience (many of whom were in the Duke Outing Club) were excited upon this first exposure to the methods and teachings of NCOBS. So began a fairly long relationship between several students of Duke University and Outward Bound. Vice President of Student Affairs William Griffith took a personal interest in the ideas being expressed by the students returning from Outward Bound and the idea of providing an Outward Bound-type pre-orientation program for incoming students was born. Originally, the target date of August '73 was proposed. But after discussions with Dan Meyer about the specifics of what a program like that would require in terms of logistics, gear, and training, the more realistic target date of August '74 was set.
At this time Terry Sanford was University President and as a former member the NCOBS Board his support was probably instrumental. Additionally, it seems obvious in looking through records that the interest and commitment of William Griffith in assisting this small group of students achieve their goal cannot be overstated. After many extensive discussions with administrators and Outward Bound staff, interviews were conducted in February 1974 to select staff who would attend a specially designed Outward Bound training course. The interviews were conducted under the auspices of Ron Rogers (former Outing Club President) and Jamie Estill (current Outing Club President). In March, Gregg Friedman from Duke accompanied the selected staff to Table Rock Base Camp near Morganton, NC for a course to be run by Dick Day and John Binstead. In addition, Dr. Loyd Borstelman of the Psychology Department and OB Board member helped train staff as did Dr. Nowlin and Cathy Severns, RN, of Pickens Health Center.
By June the name Project WILD (Wilderness Initiative for Learning at Duke) had been selected as the name for the program. By this time also, Pisgah National Forest had been selected as the site for the program. Permission from several lumber companies had to be obtained first in that they owned much of the land in the area at the time. Three staff members, Mary Reidy, Jamie Estill and Margie Overton, all traveled to OB for one last training session. Staff who had attempted to scout some of the area in Pisgah eventually decided upon Devil's Courthouse as the first climbing site for Project WILD. In addition, Father William Pharr and Mr. Lochran Saltz of Our Lady of The Hills Camp for Boys were extremely helpful in granting staff permission to use their facilities as a Base Camp. Staff literally scrambled to prepare at the last minute to prepare for the participants. On the fateful day, 55 incoming first-year students arrived directly at Our Lady of The Hills Camp in Pisgah National Forest. With the suggestion of the Cove Creek fun run sight made by Louis Williams of Hendersonville and with the construction of a make- shift low event course built on the outskirts of the camp the first August trip had begun.
Upon return from a highly successful trip, Project WILD members began to concentrate on how the program could be successfully maintained and organized. The name Duke University Committee on Experiential Education was originally conceived in order to receive ASDU funding in April of '74. William Griffith and Project WILD staff now sought to make DUCEE more than a name. In October the first Steering Committee of DUCEE was created. Its members included, among others, Ron Rogers, Dr. Loyd Borstelmann, Jamie Estill, Margery Overton, Paul Sanders, and Pete Kramer. A constitution was then drawn up which solidified DUCEE as an organization. In the Fall Semester of 1975 the first trip was offered as an opportunity specifically to train future staff. The Base Camp for the March '75 trip was held at NCOBS's Cedar Rock Base Camp off of Kathy's Creek Road in Pisgah National Forest. The Base Camp for the August 1975 trip was at the facilities of Camp Rockbrook of the Carolina Camp for Boys.
In 1976 Project WILD was granted permission to run a half-credit House Course for the purpose of training staff under the advisorship of Dr. Borstelmann. The March was included as the main element in this training. Since then, the House Course has expanded in scope and seeks mainly to communicate the ideas of experiential education while providing meaningful experiences for the Duke community. The House Course has, however, remained a requirement for becoming staff. During this time Project WILD also ran several May trips which often included faculty.
By 1978 the Program Director had gained increasing prominence. The Steering Committee was disbanded and full responsibility for the program fell on the Program Director. However, in the hopes of aiding the Program Director, the Project WILD Board of Advisors was formed in April of 1979 and was comprised of both faculty members and students. It wasn't until 1989 that the Program Directors (Stella Boswell and Tom Buhrmann) determined that the Board had become extremely detached and ineffective and decided, with its consent, to disband the Board.
At present, Project WILD is under the advisorship of the Dean of Students. The program takes its direction from two program directors, two house course directors, two climbing directors, and a large group of concerned staff.
There is a book about our unique history and culture: Project WILD: The People, Places, and History. All proceeds go directly to continuing this wonderful program.