HomePublicationsIn the News
Rugged students learn to rough it
Area tracking school teaches outdoor skills
Published by news-press.com on February 5, 2005   Copyright 2005 , The News-Press

As mist rolled off the Caloosahatchee River, the only sounds that broke the dawn's silence were the cars speeding down Palm Beach Boulevard about a mile south.

Then came the shouts, "B-R-E-A-K-F-A-S-T! B-R-E-A-K-F-A-S-T!"

More voices picked up the call, which echoed through the palms and tall grasses.

Slowly, people began to emerge from the tents that were scattered along the banks of the water's edge. Among them were a hunter from Pennsylvania, an office worker from Japan, a former mayoral candidate from Tennessee and a Cub Scout den leader from Port Charlotte. They yawned, stretched and lumbered slowly toward the mess hall beyond a low hill.

Awaiting them was a gruel of lentils and grains.

Welcome to Southwest Florida's newest tourist attraction: Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School.

Named after the renowned survivalist, his tracker school has operated for more than 25 years in the rugged country of southern New Jersey. But with its sabal palms, alligators and inviting temperatures, Southwest Florida proved to be an Eden in the fall and winter, so Brown started classes here in January.

"When it's 15 degrees and icy and (the students) are laying on the ground and getting snowed on ... their attention span may last an hour," said Brown, 55. "Look at the weather here. I can get them out there laying on the lawn."

Brown's school is the latest example of ecotourism in Southwest Florida, albeit for tourists who thrive on roughing it.

From airboat tours of the Everglades to scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico's artificial reefs, tourists' desire to get close to nature means big bucks to the state. A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report says the economic impact of hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing is close to $10 billion per year.

"(Ecotourism) is a very big part of what we're doing and who we are," said D.T. Minich, the director of tourism for Lee County. While he was not familiar with the tracker school, Minich said he is not surprised that Brown and company would want to set up shop in the region. "Those are the types of things we like to see down here — rather than an amusement park or a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum."


Brown's tracker school is bound to be another good reason for tourists to visit Southwest Florida.

With 11 courses scheduled in 2005 and tuition starting at about $900 person, Brown expects to draw nearly 1,000 students, volunteers, interns and staff to Lee and neighboring counties this year.

"It's really exciting because it's such a different ecosystem," said instructor Kristy McConnell, 29. "We get to learn new plants and build shelters with different materials (such as) palm fronds instead of leaves."

Until Brown finds property to build a school, he runs his survival program from a rented space at the United Methodist Campground, east of Alva, just across the Hendry County line.

Brown intends to rehabilitate the land he buys, clearing it of exotic vegetation in the hopes of restoring some of Florida's wilderness.

His plan is part of the dual philosophy that permeates the lessons Brown and his staff teach: hard-core survival skills coupled with an almost spiritual world outlook.

That philosophy is what lured people such as Johnny Miller, 32, to a course in January.

"Not everyone is going to (go home) and make fire," said Miller, a Seattle-area student. "But everybody can have a quieter mind ... and be more in touch with the Earth and be a steward of the land."


Miller was among the 60-plus students who came to Southwest Florida from across the country and abroad to learn from Brown.

They crawled through bushes. They learned to make buckskin clothing by skinning a deer. They spun a spindle of wood until flames sparked.

"Thirty-two years in the Army and I learned more in two hours here (in a lecture) on rocks," said Chris Chenard, 55, a U.S. Army reservist from Sudbury, Mass. "It's useful stuff. Everything is designed here toward being practical while being respectful of where the resources come from."

Ron Medise stood alone under a canopy of tall trees, eating a bland stew of meat and vegetables.

But Medise, a freshman tracker student who has taken other survival courses, had a good reason to tough it out — his 11-year-old son.

"We go out on Cub Scout trips and we go over all (the stuff I've learned). The kids love it," said Medise, a troop den leader from Port Charlotte. "You show them an animal (track) or how to make a fire ... and you're the coolest guy in the world."

Medise's wife wasn't as easy to impress — until last August.

"Hurricane Charley came and she was, like, 'Good thing you have that stove, good thing you know how to start a fire.'

"I was more prepared than some," he said.

http://www.news-press.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2005502050501  Copyright 2005 , The News-Press

Chris Oelschlager, a volunteer in Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, secretly puts tape on the shoes of a student. The object is to make students more aware of their surroundings.
Andrew McMartin, 25, a volunteer with Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, camouflages himself during an exercise. The purpose was to stay hidden from students.
Tom Brown Jr. started the Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School 25 years ago in New Jersey. He has moved part of his operation to Southwest Florida.
Johnny Miller, 32, from the Seattle area, and Megumi Nakayama, 30, from Tokyo, Japan learn the art of tracking footsteps during a session at Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School at United Methodist Campground east of Alva.
Anthony Ingraldi, 28, from Northfield, Vermont gets a fire started at Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School. Ingraldi made fire by using a bow and rubbing wood together. Flames erupted seconds later.
Kristy McConnell, an instructor with Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, teaches the fox walk to students.
Megumi Nakayama, 30, a student from Japan in Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, takes notes during an early morning class. Nakayama is an office worker in Japan and came just for this week long class.
Ron Medise, of Port Charlotte and a student in Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, takes a break in between classes at the United Methodist Campground. Medis, who has taken other survival courses, used his skills after Hurricane Charley
Jim Budzinski, from Lake Worth, gets a fire started in between classes at Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School.
Christiane Desire, 28, a volunteer with Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Survival School, uses charcoal, clay and earth to get into camouflage during an exercise at the new school at the United Methodist Campground just east of Alva.
Students in Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School take part in building a debris hut. The hut is made up of sticks, palm fronds and grass and can house one human being during a cold night.
From left, volunteers from Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, Chris Oelschlaeger, 34, Tajj Condon, 28, and Hanna and Rick Nelson wash off in the Caloosahatchee River after participating in a camoflouge exercise.
The hands of Nihat Tokdil, a volunteer in Tom Brown's Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School, come out of the ground and grab Fort Myers student Cassandra Maciag, 29, during a demonstration on the making of a debris hut.

This website has no official or informal connection to the Tracker School or Tom Brown Jr. whatsoever


In The News     Publications     Tom Brown Jr.     Tracker School

The material on this page is copyright © by the original author/artist/photographer. This website is created, maintained & copyright © by Walter Muma
Please respect this copyright and ask permission before using or saving any of the content of this page for any purpose

Thank you for visiting!