NOLS Founder Paul Petzoldt Dies

NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt fought for wilderness his whole life.

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Legendary mountaineer, environmentalist, and founder of the National Outdoor Leadership School, Paul Petzoldt, died October 6, 1999, after a lengthy struggle with cancer.

Known as one the earliest pioneers of American mountaineering and wilderness education, Petzoldt was a major contributor in the outdoor industry. His wilderness vision and desire for adventure embraced thousands across the world.

Throughout the 1930s, he ascended numerous peaks, developed mountaineering techniques such as the “sliding middleman,” and started the first guide concession in Grand National Teton Park.

“This was a man to match our mountains,” said former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson. “That was Paul. Earthy, warm, wise, witty, a bear of a man with a heart as big as his body and a smile as big as both of those. I worked with him on legislation. I never hiked with him, but he sure enriched my life, and he brought joy and pleasure and had the guts and courage of a mountain lion. He was just magnificent. He was all the man there is.”

Throughout his life, Petzoldt, 91, worked to preserve and protect wild lands. In 1963, he testified before Congress in favor of the Wilderness Act. That same year, Petzoldt helped establish the first American Outward Bound program in Colorado. While working at Outward Bound, he realized the need to teach people how to safely enjoy and conserve the outdoors. This vision turned into the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander, Wyoming.

NOLS grew rapidly, and now has nine branch schools around the world that educate more than 3,000 students annually.

“Paul’s contribution to the youth of America, to wilderness and to the development of leaders is unparalleled,” said John Gans, executive director of NOLS. “We are saddened by the loss. He left an indelible mark upon our school and as founder was a keen mentor to 50,000 staff and students who have gone on to play key roles in conservation and in their communities. Paul developed the concept of outdoor education, forever giving the world a gift.”

Petzoldt also started Wilderness Education Association (WEA) in 1977 and Maine’s Paul Petzoldt Leadership School in 1996. He authored several books including the “Wilderness Handbook” and “Teton Tales.”