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Schools & Program Visits - Apr, 1999 Issue #57  

ON TRACK 
WILDERNESS PROGRAM

Austin, Texas
Sue Forsburg, Admissions
(888) 791-2577

Visit Report by: Jodi Tuttle
435-656-1251 Jodit@redrock.net
March, 1999 

Delight and surprise best describe my thoughts as I came face-to-face with Thompsonís gazelles, axis deer, kudu, armadillos and jackrabbits, who greeted my arrival at the On Track Wilderness Program. This enchanting environment is located in the beautiful Texas Hill Country on a Wildlife Management Area owned and operated by the State of Texas. Once an exotic game preserve, today the exotic and natural animals share these 6,000 acres with students and staff from the On Track Wilderness Program. 

Almost the reverse of most wilderness programs, right at the On Track Programís beginning, the students are given all the gear they will need. They are taught how to use it effectively, then, gradually and voluntarily, students give up their gear, learning to improvise what what is left. By the end of the program, they make a pack-roll, shelter, fire, etc. with the bare essentials. When a student has completed this process, there is a final celebration to recognize this achievement. 

Students were in good spirits on the day I visited, even though the day was a bit overcast with scattered showers. This was the day students washed clothes and prepared for future trekking. Students shared their experiences with me as we all sat around a campfire. The one statement that seemed to echo its way throughout the population was, ďI didnít realize how much grief I was causing my family before I came here.Ē We discussed what they had learned in the program and what they planned to do when they left to change some of their old habits. 

They described their new skills that included: wilderness-oriented survival techniques, interpersonal relationship and communication skills, and acceptance of personal responsibility for oneís actions and their consequences. A variety of activities had fostered this growth: group and individual therapy, academic studies, map reading, service projects, goal setting workshops, food preparation, backpacking and journal writing. 

On Track serves students between the ages of 14 and 17, allowing students to enter on a rolling admissions basis. The program is licensed by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services as a therapeutic camp. This four-week experience is designed as an emotional and educational intervention to support growth in maturity, responsibility, problem solving, and goal planning. The focus of the program is on improving understanding of, and commitment to, oneís self, the natural world, and the people in it. The program combines elements of therapy, education and group living with contemporary understanding of the natural world, personal service, hard work, and extended personal responsibility. 

As I left the wildlife preserve, I thought about the discussions Iíd had while visiting the students. Most had expressed how much they had learned and how difficult it was at first to be away from home. They had totally surprised themselves by their level of accomplishment in the short time they had been in the program. Almost every student had shared a similar attitude prior to their arrival. They had not believed they could survive in the wilderness, nor did they recognize their accountability for their actions. Since the program is designed to be an intervention for students, many were planning to go on to other programs in the future. Students recognized their growth in skills and were looking forward to a brighter future. 

Copyright © 1999, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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