Come get in touch... with your wild side!

The OWLS Team

OWLS was originally established in 1991 as Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School (HOPS) by Thomas J. Elpel (above right). The school was rebranded as OWLS in 2013 in partnership with Nicholas Kern (above center). Kris Reed (above, left) has been essential in keeping classes rolling every year.

Thomas J. Elpel, Director


Thomas J. Elpel is an author, builder, conservationist and a pioneer in experiential education. He has authored six books and produced five videos on topics ranging from wilderness survival and botany to stone masonry, sustainable construction, and green economics.


As a child, Tom was mentored by his grandmother, Josie Jewett. Together they explored the hills and meadows near Virginia City, Montana, collecting herbs, looking for arrowheads and watching wildlife. Grandma Josie helped Tom to learn about native plants and their uses, igniting a passion for nature that has inspired him ever since. She also sparked his interest in survival skills.


Tom's first serious exposure to wilderness survival skills began at the age of 16, when he went on a 26-day, 250-mile walkabout in the desert canyons of southern Utah with Boulder Outdoor Survival School. The following year he and Grandma Josie went together to Tom Brown's Tracker School in New Jersey.

From there Tom spent thousands of hours practicing, developing, and teaching survival skills in his "backyard" in the Rocky Mountains. These experiences led to writing his book Participating in Nature: Wilderness Survival and Primitive Living Skills, which is currently in its sixth edition. Tom has also produced four DVDs in his Art of Nothing Wilderness Survival Video Series.


Tom started Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School (HOPS) in 1991, working first with adults, and later with kids and schools. Tom is also the founder of Green University, which is dedicated to the education and assistance of adults in the world of green business as well as nature skills. Tom has an amazing ability to work with people, teach them skills and open their minds to the possibilities of our world.

Kris Reed, Instructor


Kris Reed came to Montana as a Green University® LLC intern in March of 2006, a few months before his nineteenth birthday. He came with a passion for wilderness survival skills, which quickly spread to an equal interest in botany, house-building, sustainable living, and consciousness. He helped out with Hollowtop Outdoor Primitive School / OWLS programs and has returned every year since.


Kris is an amazing instructor in our work with the public school kids. Kris has the ability to bridge the gap between being an adult and being a kid.  He has a quiet and unassuming grace. As an instructor he doesn't present himself as teacher and possessor-of-knowledge, but rather as a friend sharing knowledge, or as a mentor facilitating the exploration and discovery of new ideas.

Emily Bartle, Instructor


Emily Bartle left high school and the Midwest knowing the endless traps of college, careers, steady bills and miles of corn were not for her. "Bartle" started her back-to-nature quest by making a commitment to living and sleeping outdoors. Bartle discovered her passion for primitive skills at the Echos in Time gathering in Oregon, where she wove her first basket with Margaret Mathewson. She worked extensively with Margaret after that, learning the art of harvesting, prepping, and weaving with natural materials. She learned how to braintan hides with Red Louvish and later immersed in the craft through an extended internship with Katie Russell, honing her skills in tanning, tailoring, and teaching.


Living nomadically, Bartle has learned the arts of felting wool, herbalism, goat herding, food preservation, and many other earth-based skills. Bartle emphasizes the "softer" skills of primitive living, such as communication and communal living. Bartle continues her nomadic existence throughout the West, learning and teaching how to rewild, reconnect, and live in tune with the rhythms of the earth.

Neal Tyagi, Instructor

Neal Tyagi grew up on the gulf coast of Texas, always outside playing sports and cycling. In his late high school years he began to see the false securities and facades of modern living, leading to the desire to pursue a more life-honoring path.

Neal joined the nine-month residential Anake program at Wilderness Awareness School in the Pacific Northwest. He experienced the importance and fulfillment of the archetypal village / tribal way of living and learned key principles and methodologies crucial to being attuned to the landscape, seeding a passion for awareness practices and native philosophies, while discovering a path of connectedness to himself, community, and nature. He feels called to be a bridge between the wild and the tame for himself and other people while developing his communion with the landscape. After mentoring children in Nature Connection in the heart of Texas, he traveled to Montana on a continuing journey of working with earth-based living skills such as brain tanning, food harvesting, animal processing, tracking, and more.

   Outdoor Wilderness Living School, LLC


OWLSchool • PO Box 697 • Pony, MT 59747 • 406-285-1807 • info@owlschool.org