02 Sep Outdoor Skill School Finds Home in Unicoi County
Students Find Purpose and Personal Achievement in Mastering Nature
Born and raised in Southern New Jersey, Scott Fisher has always been drawn to the South. “I’m a Yankee by birth and a Southerner by heart,” explains the former 101st Airborne captain turned founder of Tennessee’s only outdoor learning institute.
“I’ve always loved the outdoors, and I’m an avid kayaker. There is no better place in the country if you love the outdoors as Unicoi County, especially because of its world-class whitewater on the Nolichucky River,” Fisher says. After the Army and stints at IBM and Johnson & Johnson, this white-collar executive traded his tie for a t-shirt to establish the Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute near Erwin, TN that’s just off I-26, 35 minutes from Asheville, NC and about four hours from Atlanta.
“If there is a silver lining to the COVIC pandemic, it’s that people now yearn for mastering something that they can do while embracing nature.”
Founder, Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute
Three years into recruiting instructors and forming an alliance with USA Raft Adventure Resort along “the Noli”, his institute is drawing students from as far away as Idaho and Florida to learn how to become better mountain men, women and children.
Beyond the expected courses in kayaking and canoeing, the institute teaches survival and mapping skills, water safety and rescue, camping and hiking skills and many others. In all, 53 courses of instruction are taught by 10 experts that are offered to those 7-to-70 years of age. “If there is a silver lining to the COVIC pandemic, it’s that people now yearn for mastering something that they can do while embracing nature. The human spirit longs for a connection to nature. Our students tell us that learning how to master an outdoor skill helps them make their life whole again and helps them set new priorities for their life.”
Coursework in camping and survival might be along the Appalachian Trail that meanders along the learning institute’s campus. Flatwater courses might be found on Watauga Lake in nearby Butler TN. White water courses are along the Nolichucky, rated in 2019 by the International Rafting Federation as one of the world’s Top 10 Rivers.
It doesn’t have to be some macho experience for Millennials or Gen Zs says Fisher. “One of my most rewarding experiences was helping a senior master flatwater canoeing with her service dog onboard the canoe. It built her confidence that she can do more in her everyday life.”
Assessing his institute’s place among larger outfitters and instruction programs, Fisher says balance sets his apart from his competitors. “While there are some great learning experiences that primarily revolve around whitewater or outdoor survival, I wanted to have a balanced, more comprehensive curriculum. For instance, I noted that there are a great many drownings among those who paddle along still waterways so we created a flatwater safety and rescue course that I think will save a life for someone,” Fisher says.
What’s in the future? “I walked away from some great jobs to do this. I knew it was time to follow my dream, or I would wake up an old man and wonder ‘what if’. Three years into the institute, we have found success through social media and through endorsements by our students. Looking down the road, near the Nolichucky is a wonderful state park (Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park) with about 2,000 acres of wilderness and a gorgeous mountain stream for fly fishing. That stream, coupled with amazing smallmouth bass and trout on the Nolichucky, makes me think fishing and hunting might be an opportunity.”
To learn more about Nolichucky Outdoor Learning Institute, follow the adventures of the institute on Facebook or visit the site at NOLILearn.org.