Robert Brooks, of Port Washington, makes a fire during the...

Robert Brooks, of Port Washington, makes a fire during the Wilderness Survival Series at Sands Point Preserve. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

“Time’s up!” yells Eric Powers.

The shout alerts the 20 participants in the hands-on Wilderness Survival Series at the Sands Point Preserve that their five minutes to forage for leaves, twigs and dry wood is over.

It is time to see which teams will succeed in lighting a fire in the one-match challenge.

Building a fire in the wild is just one skill people learn during the new eight-workshop series offered at both Sands Point and at the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery in Brookhaven. Upcoming two-hour outdoor sessions include traps and snares in February, water purification in March, shelter building in April, foraging for food and medicine in June, cordage in July, making fire with friction in August, and making fire with sparks in September. The series culminates in two 24-hour overnight survival challenges in October to let each group put what they’ve learned into practice. 

Survival preparation includes the five C’s. Bring something for: 

Combustion (to start a campfire)

cutting implement

container (to gather water)

Cover (such as heavy-duty trash bags to protect from the elements)

Cordae (some kind of twine)

Participants can attend all the workshops or can pick and choose for $40 each; they are taught at Sands Point from 10 to noon and repeated at Brookhaven from 6 to 8 p.m. on the same days. 

Why should Long Islanders learn survival skills? 

People don’t have to be expecting the end of the world to benefit from survival skills, says Michael Evans, 49, of Patchogue, who owns a martial arts studio and is co-leading the workshops with Powers, 54, of Brookhaven, a wildlife biologist, former Colorado state parks ranger and program director of the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery.

Long Islanders might be day hiking through a park and veer off the trail and think, “Where am I?” Or they might be camping and trip over a root and break an ankle. Or even be trapped by a snowstorm on the Long Island Expressway. “The idea is to know enough to turn roughing it into smoothing it,” Evans tells the group.

Before launching the one-match challenge during the initial January session, which is an overview of what's to come, Powers whips a cover off tools set out on the ground: a flashlight, a knife, an emergency poncho, a signal mirror, a cigarette lighter, a first aid kit, a water filter, a bear-scaring bell and a ferrocerium rod, which, when struck with a piece of steel, produces a very hot spark that can light tinder.

He asks everyone seated in a circle to choose the one tool they would want to have if stranded.

“You need fire to stay warm and cook food,” says Jackie Mongno, 55, a teacher from Northport.

“I would want water,” says Hildur Palsdottir, 50, an educator from Port Washington.

“Probably the compass,” says Aileen Sheil, 32, a New York City employee from Queens.

What do the experts recommend?

“I usually pick the knife,” Evans tells the group. “I can make everything else with the knife.”

“How would you make the water filter?” challenges Palsdottir.

“That’s a whole other workshop,” Evans says. That session is in March.

Eric Powers teaches the Wilderness Survival Series at Sands Point...

Eric Powers teaches the Wilderness Survival Series at Sands Point Preserve. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

What sends you to the woods?

The leaders teach the group acronyms to help them be succesful in the wilderness. For instance, when lost, to STOP – sit down, think, observe and plan.

Mongo jokes that the P ought to stand for pray. Powers says that what it should not stand for is panic.

Participants say they signed up for the workshop for a variety of reasons. “We’ve been watching a lot of apocalypse movies,” jokes Kim Nauer-Birbiglia, 58, a researcher from Port Washington who is with her son, Zachary, 16, a high school junior.

Sheil is with her husband, Shawn Hall, 35, a carpenter. “We want to move to the middle of nowhere,” Hall says. “Upstate New York or Maine,” Sheil says. “Too crowded here for us.”

Renee Bandes, 47, of Patchogue, is the director of science and technology for the West Islip School District. “I want to hopefully be able to bring some of this back to my district. It would be fun to do a Wilderness Survival Club at the high school.”

'We eat tonight' 

During the one-match challenge, the suspense is palpable. The wind blows out one team’s match. “Oh, painful,” Powers says, and he later shows the group how to fray the stick of the match with a knife so that it might burn longer and stronger. Another team’s match breaks as they strike it. A third team lights their leaves, but the embers burn before the twigs catch.

Kenneth Krivac, 66, a retired carpenter from Queens, diligently blows on his fledgling fire until it catches onto the wood and burns, one of the only participants to succeed. “We eat tonight!” he gleefully quips.

The workshop winds up with participants learning a variety of knots, each working with an individual cord.

“I really enjoyed it,” Alli Greenwood, 20, a college student from Albertson, says when the workshop ends. She and her boyfriend, Christian Einnatz, 26, a civil engineer from New Hyde Park, have already registered for the July and August sessions. “I’m excited to come back for the next one,” she says.

As for the overnight, "I'm not sure If I'm doing that," Bandes says. Participants will build shelters, practice purifying water, and make their own fires. "Nobody's allowed to die," Bandes jokes of the survival aspect of the event. The group will be together, and there will be no shame in bringing a tent and sleeping bag as backup.

Hildur Palsdottir of Port Washington learns how to start a...

Hildur Palsdottir of Port Washington learns how to start a fire at the Wilderness Survival Series at Sands Point Preserve. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Wilderness Survival Series

WHEN | WHERE: 10 a.m. to noon at Sands Point Preserve, 127 Middle Neck Rd., Sands Point and 6 to 8 p.m. at the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery, 287 South Country Rd., Brookhaven on select dates through October

COST: $40 per session

MORE INFO: 516-570-2185 or; 631-803-6780 or

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