Out in the Wild
White Pine Wilderness Academy Offers Outdoor Learning Programs For All Ages
Writer / Megan Jefferson
Photographer / Andre Jefferson
White Pine Wilderness Academy is located on the outskirts of Broad Ripple, on the island of Rocky Ripple, between the White River and the canal. The school offers unique, comprehensive outdoor learning programs for kids, teens and adults.
Matt Shull, founder, owner and instructor is from Indianapolis and started White Pine five years ago. Shull grew up being mentored by his grandfather, a naturalist and published Entomologist, who wrote, “The Butterflies of Indiana.” His grandfather spent 25 years living in India, working as a shikari, a professional tracker. As a shikari, he was responsible for tracking down tigers and other large cats that had taken to attacking people. Shull was raised hearing these incredible stories of stalking and harvesting man-eating tigers. This instilled in Shull a reverence, an awe of nature.
After graduating from high school, Shull headed to the Rocky Mountains and got a job working in the national park for four years. His love of nature continued to grow. He spent the next 20 years traveling all around the world, living in different remote areas in the Cascades, the Sierras and the Himalayan Mountains.
He then decided that he wanted to teach people what he had come to know so well, that a deep connection to nature, primitive skills and lineage is integral to our wellbeing. Shull wanted to start a school in his home, here in the Eastern Woodlands, where people are very disconnected from nature.
“There’s an attitude here that makes people feel as though they need to go elsewhere to experience an outdoor adventure or connection,” he says. “I wanted to dive in and start here, in our community. I created something that shows everyone there is amazing things in Indiana.”
White Pine Wilderness Academy was designed to address nature deficit disorder. This term was coined by Richard Louv, who wrote several books about how this deficit affects everyone, in particular, the development of kids. Shull created programming that immerses students in nature and builds roots of connection – connection to self, community and ancestry.
The academy’s land is filled with interesting structures like a large rope swing and play equipment for both kids and adults. There’s a large wall for shooting bows with soft arrows for target practice and play. A yurt with a cozy wood burning stove is filled with furs, diagrams and tools for carving and building. There is a fire pit where lots of meaningful conversations take place as well.
Programming is available to people of all ages. For adults, there are classes offered in herbalism and foraging, high-speed survival and more. For kids, day camps for homeschoolers and after school camps are offered year-round. There are also seasonal summer camps.
Class sizes are small and the mentoring ratio is kept at 1 to 5. The classes provide youth with a full body, full sensory immersion into their environment. Students are mentored through their fears and inhibitions to find their strengths. Through games, stories and adventure hikes, children are bought into a new relationship with nature. They have the freedom to wander and explore with master naturalists who work as guides, providing an ideal backdrop for discovery. Kids learn bow making, mapping, ecology and survival skills – how to make fires and shelters.
“Kids thrive in free play and on non-linear playgrounds,” Shull says. “They need to climb trees, scrape their knees every once in a while and learn boundaries. They will come home tired, dirty and filled with stories and enthusiasm that will inspire the entire family.”
The full offering of classes and more information can be found online at whitepinewilderness.com.