Second Nature Footsteps Program
at Blue Ridge



 Second Nature's Footstep's program is Second Nature's offering for younger teens and "tweens."  Based at the Second Nature Blue Ridge Program, it is totally separate from the groups with older participants. The young people in the program  are in a situation that is sensitive and appropriate to the age and developmental needs of participants. 

(Article continues below box)

FamilyLightsm is an educational consulting firm specializing in work with families with a young person with behavioral, emotional or psychological difficulties.  We offer in-depth personal guidance to families on a fee basis and free guidance on the internet. FamilyLightsm attempts to be fully objective and accepts no advertising nor referral fees. The only revenue at FamilyLightsm comes from client fees. 


The program uses a charming book, The Knight in Rusty Armor by Robert Fisher as a kind of "script" for the growth process the programs hope the participants will emulate.  It is an easy to read and understand book which will lead many of the participants to see themselves in the foibles of the lead character. 

The tasks the participants are expected to pursue, that still include hiking, primitive camping, and survival skills, are set at an age appropriate level with abundant staff support. 

Like other Second Nature Wilderness programs, Footsteps is what we call  a "full immersion" wilderness program. Parents who have no idea what happens in a full immersion wilderness program might read Shouting at the Sky by Gary Ferguson. The base line program at all Second Nature Wilderness locations is roughly similar to what is in this book. Second Nature was initially patterned after the wilderness program Gary Ferguson wrote about (which was not a Second Nature program and not a program for younger children). When several people left the program described in Shouting at the Sky to create the Second Nature organization, their principal innovation was to create a clinically driven program.

Like other Second Nature Wilderness programs, Footsteps is a clinically driven program in a way that some wilderness programs are not.  By "clinically driven" we mean two things.  First, the intervention with the student in wilderness is individually directed by a licensed clinician.   Second, while the customary procedures in day-to-day programming at Second Nature adolescent programs are quite similar to what is depicted in Shouting at the Sky, the therapists have the authority to overrule almost any routine of the program for an individual student if to do so is in the interest of that student and does not harm other students.  This was not true in the program depicted in Shouting at the Sky. There, the program traditions could not be violated. We prefer the flexibility that occurs with a clinician having such wide latitude.

Examples: Full immersion wilderness programs usually do not allow the student to see or ride in vehicles, make phone calls, or leave the assigned group for any reason.  At a Second Nature program students might be given an opportunity to speak to parents by (satellite) phone. They might be allowed to leave their own group and participate in group therapy in a different group, especially if they have a prior relationship with a person in the other group,  just as two examples.  One of our FamilyLightsm clients in the young adult program at Second Nature Entrada was allowed to leave the group to go to and interview for his next program, then return (this is less likely to occur at Footsteps, but the example remains appropriate for illustrating the discretion the clinicians have).   

Over-all we believe that the Second Nature organization provides the highest consistent quality of any chain of wilderness programs and Entrada very much exemplifies those high standards.  There are also individual wilderness programs we believe are just as strong (including a few that are parts of chains but stand out for quality beyond the rest of the chains they are part of) but we affirm Second Nature as the highest consistent quality wilderness chain. 

Second Nature programming fares well with respect to our guidelines.  We would like to see better attention to our guidelines on Spiritual Life and Religion and on Outcomes.  (We do not mean that we believe their outcomes are substandard, but we would like to see more outcome research.)  Most programs fall short on both of these issues. We would like to see much more attention to these issues both at Second Nature and throughout the industry. In the specific case of Footsteps, we would like to see more frank discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of wilderness for younger children and children with autism spectrum disorders or pervasive developmental disorder.  For further attention to this issue, please read the end of this article.

Because Second Nature Wilderness programs are short term wilderness programs (usually 6-8 weeks) they make no claim to prepare most of the clients who go there to return home immediately after the program; some of our guidelines do not apply.  

Second Nature shows particular strength with family participation, staffing, safety and marketing and promotion, as we compare Second Nature with our guidelines.  They put tremendous energy into keeping parents in close communication with what is happening with their son or daughter. In the fall of 2007 and the spring of 2008, Second Nature intensified its already excellent family services by adding access to parent mentors and and a series of parent webinars every two weeks conducted by Brad Reedy.  This is in addition to the intensive communication between therapists and parents back home that is characteristic of wilderness programs.  Parents are strongly urged to come to the program at some point -- usually just as their son or daughter is getting ready to leave -- and stay overnight in the field with their son or daughter. 

Second Nature puts great emphasis on quality relationships between students and frontline (field) staff, guided by each client's therapist, consistent with our Staffing Guideline.  We are completely unaware of any examples of objectionable marketing and promotion. We are particularly pleased on the issue of safety that all field groups carry satellite phones, the most reliable means of communication.  (They also have two way radios with repeaters connecting them to base, which is monitored 24-7). This provides two communications systems which render unlikely a situation in which both would fail at the same time. 

We have some cautions for parents considering Footsteps.  First and foremost, we think wilderness programming is overused and probably misused for children in the age group served by Footsteps and by children who are on the Autism spectrum or have non-verbal learning disability.  Wilderness programming is effective for many participants because of the fact that it takes the participants outside of their usual comfort zone. Doing so creates a certain amount of anxiety that inspires young people who are primarily spoiled, entitled and undisciplined  (and some others) to take responsibility for finding ways to alleviate their own anxieties responsibly, by their own actions and by participating in teamwork with the rest of the group in wilderness.  In addition, adding some anxiety to the experience of an older teen can sometimes be an ingredient that produces a more insightful evaluation.

We are not convinced that adding anxiety is always the first appropriate form of intervention with early teens and pre-teens, or with kids on the PDD/Autism/NLD spectrum.  We know of selected cases in which it is absolutely the right choice, but wilderness should never be a knee-jerk reaction for these young people.  Before sending a child in either of these categories, check with a qualified mental health professional who knows the child well and ask whether or not the anxiety that is inevitable in a wilderness program would be constructive. 

Our other concerns involve the book, The Knight in Rusty Armor. Before criticizing, we want to be very clear that we see the value of this book as an instrument to trigger serious self reflection -- in boys and men.  That leads to our first concern.  The images in the book are almost exclusively male, which leaves a question about the effectiveness and even the appropriateness of this resource for the girls. 

The second involves a concern where we initially over-reacted, and some would say we are still over-reacting.  If you look at the first page of text of  the book, you will see the words, "At the mere mention of a crusade, the knight would eagerly don his shining armor, mount his horse, and ride off in any direction."  When our consultant Tom Croke visited this program shortly after it opened, he was handed a copy of the book as he arrived.  While in the campsite of the Footsteps group, he flipped through the pages as he was getting into conversation with a boy in the program who identified himself as a Moslem. The word "crusade" jumped off the page, except he misread it as "Crusade."  Small difference, but The Crusades were not the proudest moment in Christian history.  We are not comfortable with holding up Christian behavior during the Crusades (capital "C") as a role model to be emulated.  It gets harder to accept when put right in the face of a Moslem (not an Islamic radical, but a 12 year old boy who is proud of his faith but not political activist).  So his initial reaction (in error) was that the book was in bad taste and its use was unacceptable. 

Some time later, he discussed the matter with two astute consultants who apparently read better than he does, Louise Slater and May Peach.  They pointed out that the book had nothing to do with The Crusades (capital "C"), but was a reference to "crusade" (lower case) as in any cause.  We still think the use of the word is at best a distraction but not the fatal flaw we would have if the book -- and therefore the Second Nature Program -- would be holding the behavior of Crusaders up as a positive role model.

Our question: Isn't there another resource besides this book that is more gender neutral and avoids the word crusade altogether? 

We do not want to leave this on a negative note. On the whole this is a great program for the right person.  We hope they could find another book to replace The Knight in Rusty Armor, but we do affirm the quality of the book for the stated purpose -- for boys.

Second Nature's own website


Return to Second Nature / Willow Creek Index


Return to Major Provider Organizations


Return to Program Commentary


With appreciation for Louise Slater and May Peach of The Price Group, Educational Consultants


Struggling Teens on Second Nature


Feedback is invited. We will publish any feedback in good taste from Second Nature and will publish selected feedback from other sources. Email:


Disclaimer: No  program review, no matter how positive, is a blanket endorsement. No criticism is a blanket condemnation.  When we express our level of confidence in a school or program, that is our subjective opinion with which others might reasonably disagree.  When we assert something as fact, we have done our best to be accurate, but we cannot guarantee that all of our information is accurate and up to date. When we address compliance with our guidelines, you need to remember that these are only OUR guidelines -- not guidelines from an official source.  We have also set the bar very high, and do not expect any school or program to be in total compliance.  It is not appropriate to draw a conclusion of impropriety (or even failure to live up to conventional wisdom) from our lack of confidence in a school or program or from less than perfect conformity to our guidelines.  Some will say we expect too much. Readers are responsible for verifying accuracy of information supplied here prior to acting upon it. We are not responsible for inaccuracies.


Last updated 8-13-08; Minor edits 8-08-15


Programs and More


     Tom's Blog

     Commentary (Program)

          Major Provider Groups

               Aspen Education


               CRC Health

               Devereux Foundation

               Eckerd Youth Alternatives

               Heritage Youth Services

               Psychiatric Solutions, Inc.

               Redcliff/Discovery Group

               Second Nature  

                    Blue Ridge

                    Blue Ridge Footsteps <<




                    Entrada Young Adult

                    Willow Creek School


               Three Springs

               Universal Health


          Individual Schools and Programs

          Accrediting Organizations

          Other Trade Associations




     Commentary (Topical)

     Search guide

     Parent support

     Virtual community

     "Bridge" Archive


     Q and A






                                  "Solutions, Not Just Referrals"  

1999-2008 Thomas J. Croke & Associates, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Except lighthouse photo, which is public domain, no part of this website may be copied without permission.

For questions or comments regarding this website, email