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Surviving in extreme conditions — and suburbia

Ranger Eric Powers demonstrates how to start a

Ranger Eric Powers demonstrates how to start a fire with steel wool at Sands Point Preserve. Credit: Marisol Diaz

Suburban living may come with a steep price tag, but it doesn’t come with a manual. And why should it?

At a time when smartphones dictate directions and motor clubs like AAA offer 24-hour roadside assistance, it’s hard for some people to imagine a scenario where help wouldn’t be a touch screen away.

Yet time has proved there very well could be.

One Long Island park is offering a class for people who realize their safety net could easily disappear if they get stranded and lose cellphone service (or battery life).

Sands Point Preserve Conservancy will host the “Wilderness & Suburban Survival” course for the first time on Saturday, June 18.

“Whenever people get lost, it’s always unexpected — on vacation, in an unfamiliar place or a car accident during a storm,” says Beth Horn, Sands Point Preserve’s managing director.

The goal of the course is to teach self-sufficiency and independence that can be applied in a survival setting, Horn says.

The two-hour course is open to those 16 and older and will be led by Eric Powers, a biologist and park ranger.


Participants can expect to learn the basics of wilderness survival, including shelter building and how to make a fire.

The course is centered around the concept S.T.O.P., which stands for “sit, think, observe and plan” and the Rule of Threes, which states that in any extreme situation, a person cannot survive for more than three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water and three weeks without food.

It also teaches the basics of navigation. When people get lost, they tend to wander around in circles, says Powers, 46, of Stony Brook.

The strategies he teaches in the “Wilderness & Suburban Survival” course are time-tested. Using these acronyms will help people make decisions that will help them survive until rescue parties arrive, he says.

The course consists of a 20-minute introduction followed by a hands-on outdoor session.

“Most people like a shorter course. They like things in smaller, bite-sized pieces,” says Powers, who has been a survival instructor for more than 15 years and developed this two-hour course. “It gives a quick overview in a nice, easy way that most people can remember.”


The outdoor portion of the course involves hands-on training in the forest where participants put their new skills into practice with such activities as fire building with steel wool, cotton and petroleum jelly. Be advised: Things can get dirty. Participants are encouraged to wear garden gloves.

Sands Point Preserve Conservancy has a long history of offering family-centric nature programs at the preserve. This year, organizers wanted to develop a series of educational opportunities specifically for adults, starting with this suburbanite’s guide to wilderness survival.

Says Powers, “It’s not some hard-core wilderness survival class, just an introduction.”

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