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For urbanites, having true camping and wilderness experiences is still possible

by Timothy Martinez Jr.

Deep in the heart of New York City, the most populous city in the United States, sits a group of people who are fending for themselves in the wilderness. This isn’t some metaphor for the city as a concrete jungle either. These are people surviving off the basics, finding food on their own and building fires with sticks.

If you’re wondering what’s going on, these people are in the middle of Central Park taking survival classes from the Mountain Scout Survival School. For those of you who live near forests or have never been to New York City, you might scoff at the imagery, but Central Park is a massive 843 acre piece of land with woods and nature. There are a surprising amount of places to explore and get lost even though the park is surrounded by a dense cityscape.

The 8 hour course is taught by Shane Hobel, a former stuntman who loves the wilderness. Here’s how the New York Times described the students:

Some of his students are those newly spooked by the swell of local hurricanes and floods, ill equipped for life without batteries and electricity. Some are outdoors enthusiasts and hikers. All are eager to learn the basics of how to find and filter water, how to build a fire, how to track wild animals and even trap them for food.

They are learning really valuable skills that could come in handy at any time. People don’t even need to be camping to find themselves in survival situations.

This reminds me of a fascinating radio story I heard in an episode of This American Life where a man was stranded on a deserted island all within view of the Empire State Building. The story perfectly embodies the sentiment that there are still unexplored and uninhabited areas of cities. Just because you’re in a city environment doesn’t mean you’ll never find yourself caught in the wild.

Urban environments have a lot of wilderness, like the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles and Jamaica Bay in New York City. You can even go camping in places like Central Park (on specific days of course). Urban camping, and I don’t necessarily mean something like Occupy Wall Street, is a growing trend and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about it in the future.

No matter how much people try to destroy nature and remove all elements of the wild, it will always seep through the concrete and ultimately try to reclaim its rightful place. Whether it’s a flower protruding from a crack in the concrete or a vine creeping across the walls of a building, nature will always be around us.

November 3, 2011
Timothy Martinez Jr.