Landmark Learning gets a new and improved campus

Photo by Jessica Wooten

This story was co-written with Jessica Wooten.

Landmark Learning is a hands on school in Cullowhee, North Carolina that specializes in teaching and training people who work or want to work in the outdoor community.

Landmark Learning has many different courses to choose from in the categories of water, medical and wilderness. Within these courses, you can earn many certifications including Wilderness First Aid, CPR, and you can even become certified as a Whitewater Kayak Instructor.

Justin and Mairi Padgett, both WCU alums,  dreamed of preparing and educating people on how to use the surrounding lands properly and how to prevent and react to accidents that may occur. They founded Landmark Learning in 1996 in WCU backyard – just few miles up on Cane Creek in the hart of the Smokey’s.

“We’ve been in business since 1996. We moved to our current location in 2000 and my husband and I immediately started resuscitating the house here,” Mairi reminisced, having lived in the original house before converting it into the office it is now.

This year, a new upstream campus has been added to the Landmark Learning location in Cullowhee, NC. After trying to find the perfect location to add the new addition, Padgetts finally found the perfect location up the river. The building is facilitated with a bigger classroom along with kitchen and new space for the main offices. New bunk houses are also in the process of being built up the hill from the upstream campus. Students taking classes can stay in them or put their tent and camp while taking outdoor lessons.

WCU student, Sam Cook, participated in a 10 day Wilderness First Responder course at Landmark Learning in March, 2016. The course had students learn and practice the proper steps and techniques of applying first aid in emergency situations through extensive, hands-on scenarios. Cook took the course in order to gain skills for her job as a guide for Base Camp at WCU and ended up loving it.

“Inevitably, someday I will come across a friend or stranger who needs help in the wilderness. It is natural to want to help another person, and now I feel confident to do so. Whether I was [ acting as] a patient or rescuer, it taught me various ways to apply first aid in the wilderness,” Cook said in an email interview.

Landmark Learning offers courses that vary in length and can last a day, five days and even a six week semester! The students who chose to enroll are expected to embrace the temporary lifestyle of living in tents, or bunks when the temperature drops, and make their own food all while living on campus during their course. Students who are adapted to outdoor living such as camping have found this to be a comfortable and familiar environment.

Mairi says that the alumni who come back for more courses, or who are staff members, often miss the old campus and the tiny classroom.

“They come up to the new campus and ask if we can go back, saying it was just enough room for them.”

Landmark Learning is an accredited outdoor school, which allows students to earn transferable college credit for courses taken. The school has partnered with Western Carolina University to provide WCU’s students with nationally recognized certifications. In the Parks and Recreation Management major, there are at least 12 hours of credit that can be fulfilled through a Landmark course

All 24 of the Landmark Learning faculty are skilled professionals in Wilderness First Responding, Wilderness EMT and CPR certified. The school enrolls more than 2,500 students each year. 

The school is affiliated with major nationally recognized organizations such as the American Canoe Association, the American Safety & Health Institute, NC Emergency Medical Services and more.

Landmark Learning has helped and provided resources for WCU students’ research and projects. An example is the 2013 testing of Cane Creek’s water quality. WCU collaborated with Landmark Learning and the Jackson County Health Department to make sure Cane Creek’s levels met federal standard.

To see what courses Landmark Learning is offering, check here.

Related story: WCU Magazine: Test of Endurance