'Everybody wants to play zombies'

'Everybody wants to play zombies' »Play Video
Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, KATU.com Producer/Reporter.

SANDY, Ore. - Zombies invaded our local woods this weekend and it was up to a small group of survivors to fend them off using the skills they learned from a 'Zombie Survival Training' course.

The rise of the living dead in a rural part of Sandy was part of a program put on by Trackers Earth, a local organization that runs outdoor programs for kids and adults.

Now of course, they do realize that the chances of a zombie apocalypse are remote but that wasn't the idea. The goal was to teach folks a thing or two about the outdoors and have a little fun while doing it.

"You don't have to be dour and boring," said Tony Deis, founder of Trackers Earth. "You can be a bunch of geeks."

This wasn't just playtime, though. The folks who camped out for the weekend (this was an adult-only program) learned important survival skills along the way - like how to build a fire without matches or a lighter, how to hunt and gather food and how to build a shelter to protect themselves from the elements.

As far as the zombie element, Deis said it's a great way to attract folks that wouldn't normally sign up for an outdoor class. All you have to do is mention zombies and people's ears perk up.

"The interest has built to critical mass," he said.

"Everybody wants to play zombies," said Instructor Jamey Espinoza, who was excited about the idea from the beginning and has run with it. He was heading up the training this weekend.

"It's just a lot of fun," said Stephen Drummond, one of the camp participants. "But there's also a lot of useful skills that translate to other areas that you might not normally think about."

"I'm really enjoying it," said Sechin Tower, who drove all the way from Seattle to spend the weekend at zombie camp. "I don't have much opportunity to get out to the wilderness, living in a suburban and urban place like I do. It also kind of opened my eyes to how under prepared I would be for a more realistic disaster, like an earthquake. You know, just having supplies and food and things like that."

"By learning all of these survival skills, it ends up being a last resort backup," said Drummond, who spends one weekend a month participating in a Trackers Earth program and has learned many skills along the way. "If I'm up on the mountain and everything goes bad, I can still survive."

Newbie Rhonda Baker was having a great time at the camp.

"This is the first time I've ever done anything like this," she said. "As a matter of fact, I saw my first zombie movie last night - the 1968 classic. But it's not so much about the zombies for me as it is learning how to build a fire without matches and find a shelter. I have two children and it's important to me to learn how to protect them and survive if something should happen."

For Trackers Earth, that's the key idea - teaching folks useful skills that might come in handy if they get lost in the woods or an earthquake or other disaster strikes. Unlike a zombie apocalypse, those types of things really can happen. Learning how to be prepared for the worst can be fun, though.

"It takes a lot of the doom and gloom out of the real serious things that we're talking about," said Espinoza. "I've had parents kind of tear up thinking about what is going to go on with their kids when a disaster happens - where to go, where to find them, how to get them. Zombies kind of take the edge off and puts a little humor into it so we can actually continue with a productive conversation."

"It's a great way to talk about outdoor survival skills and really put it in a fun, scenario-based situation," said Deis.

Now Trackers Earth isn't necessarily looking to become known as just a 'zombie camp.' In fact, that's just one small part of what they do. They do a lot of work with kids as well - they run summer camps, take children on outdoor adventures and have after-school programs.

If you'd like to learn more, they will be holding a free informational evening on Tuesday, March 13.