History of the University of the Wild


Birth of an Idea

The UofWild emerged out of forty years of hands-on environmentally Earth-based programs at Earthlands, a 250-acre environmental program center in rural Petersham, Massachusetts, and the nationally recognized Outdoor Leadership Program (OLP) at Greenfield Community College in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Over the years, Earthlands attracted international attention for its programming and hosted many well-known earth activists and educators. As Earthlands gained a passionate and dedicated following, the idea emerged of leveraging the substantial knowledge and expertise amassed over the years into a university-level, for-credit, educational institution.

The alarming growth of environmental crises as well as humanity’s disconnect from, and lack of concern about, the natural universe that allows life on this one-of-a-kind planet propelled thoughts into action, and serious planning for the University of the Wild began.

The Early Years

The University of the Wild began running programs in 1999 as part of Earthlands. Over the years, programs and workshops were developed and run that have since become part of UofWild’s new Semester on Earth program. In 1980, Dr. Buell established the Outdoor Leadership Program at Greenfield Comunity College, which became a model for other outdoor leadership training programs throughout the country. Elements from the leadership training program have also become woven into the University of the Wild as part of its mission to train leaders to work towards global ecological changes.

Established As Its Own Non-Profit

In 2016, Dr. Buell began to tap into the resources and knowledge of his large network of leaders, teachers, writers, thinkers, and environmental activists to legally establish the University of the Wild, its Semester on Earth program, and the Wild Earth Institute (its parent non-profit organization). Plans were progressing to run a pilot Semester on Earth, for college credit, in the fall of 2020.

The pandemic changed everything. Although it forced the postponement of the planned pilot program, the pandemic laid bare how interconnected life on Earth is, how devastating global climate change will be if we don’t deal with it, and how far out of touch with the Earth’s natural world we have become. Interest in the outdoors, nature, ecology, wilderness education, food scarcity, social justice, and environmental studies exploded.

The University of the Wild was poised and ready to roll into the educational upheaval with programs, methods, and philosophies ancient and new: ready to begin teaching the leaders, teachers, and thinkers of the post-pandemic world about how to holistically connect ecology, current environmental science, education, food, communities, justice, and social issues. how to raise awareness in people of all ages and, especially, how to educate youth in ways that will tune them into the rhythms and needs of the natural world and make them effective stewards of the planet.


1964 Larry Buell receives the vision for Earthlands and the University of the Wild while on a personal retreat at Gibo’s Cabin, Swift River Valley, Petersham, MA

1968 Buell Family purchases nearly 500 acres on Glasheen Road that will become Earthlands (a portion of it will later become the campus of the University of the Wild).

1969 First draft of the Earthlands program and facilities while Buell was a graduate student at Penn State

Fall of 1969 Buell joins Recreation Department at Greenfield Community College to teach Outdoor Recreation and other recreation courses.

1976 Buell publishes two books that become the foundational principles and practices of the UofWild – Outdoor Leadership Compentency and The 24-Hour Experience

1980 Year-long Outdoor Leadership Program OLP founded at Greenfield Community College

1987 Earthlands becomes home to the semester-long residential community of the Environmental Leadership Program of OLP at GCC.

1990 Outdoor Education Programs and an Organic Certified Farm established at Earthlands

1991 Buell travels for four months to Russia and Siberia where he produced the ten Community Principles of Earthlands; the name Earthlands created in Ukraine

1993 Earthlands Community established with seventeen adult members

1994 Earth Education program established at GCC within the Human Ecology Department

1997 Master Plan of Earthlands created by noted Permaculturist, Dave Jacke and the Conway School of Landscape Design graduate program with a focus on the three components of Earthlands: 1) Program Center; 2) Intentional Community; and 3) Higher Education Programs.

1999 University of the Wild founded as the result of a Y2K article in Communities Magazine where it was stated by the Buell article, Covenant for the Earth, that “…in the future we will go to the Catherdral of the Pines and the University of the Wild”

2008 First 16 credits of courses offered by the UofWild at UMass/Amherst and GCC

2009 Buell presents the concept of the UofWild at the International Association for Experiential Education AEE Conference in Montreal, Canada, with remarkable support

2010 Wide range of UofWild courses and workshops offered by Co-Director, Patrick Draper and Nika Fotopulos-Voeikoff

2012 Native Americans gather at Earthlands and propose a Nipmuc Education Center

2015 Larry Buell & Nikomo Peartree of the Freedom School Movement offer a workshop on Alternative Earth-based Higher Education at Greenfield Community College

2016 OLP graduates and staff, Jean Bergstrom & Kathy Dean, founders of Her Wild Roots,  and Frank Grindrod, founder of Earthwork Programs, become the first UofWild Partners.

2016 Nipmuks deeded former Earthlands land near the “Underground Caves” to start to develop the Nipmuc Center

2017 Earthlands Lodge & Program Center sold to the Earthlands Trust to continue programs

2017 Nipmuk Cultural Preservation, Inc. build first structure of the Nipmuc Cultural Center; NCP is a founding Partner of the UofWild


Join our email list for newsletters, event listings, and course information.

Find Us on Facebook