Bridge to the future: Primitive skills gathering finds permanent home

(BRANDON HANSEN/Chewelah Independent)

A CENTER FOR THE COMMUNITY: Bridges to the Past, non-profit for Between the Rivers Gathering, acquires land near Valley to expand the future for primitive skills learning…

For just under a decade, the Between the Rivers Gathering has been one of the most unique aspects of the Chewelah/Valley area. The primitive skills gathering, organized by Bridges to the Past, has provided a week-long retreat for people looking to disconnect from the modern world and tap into a back-to-basics approach of living.

But while focusing on the past, Between the Rivers and its parent company are also looking to the future. For years, the gathering has occurred on a Stevens County resident’s land. Now, Bridges to the Past will have use of a 40-acre piece of land in the Valley area through collaboration with a community member.

Bridges to the Past (BTTP) is a non-profit organization that focuses on educating and preserved shared human history. While not concentrating on a specific time period, Bridges to the Past likes to show primitive skills and ways that would be used by ancestors before modern amenities came along.

The new land means that Bridges to the Past can host things like classes, retreats and events several times throughout the year. While they will certainly stick to their roots of primitive skills, the organizers of Between the Rivers see this as an opportunity to provide an even stronger connection to the past. Volunteers and BTTP staff members can now provide services year round and people can learn stone age, bronze age and iron age time skills. While Between the Rivers was a unique aspect of the area that happened once a year, now NE Washington will have a constant connection to human history.

Since Between the Rivers is a week-long event, some skills and workshops weren’t an option since a project may take longer to see from beginning to end. This new land allows Bridges to the Past to host more intensive workshops for projects that simply can’t be completed in a week. This could include learning difficult skills or creating something like a primitive canoe or work on a black smithing project.

Patrick Farneman, organizer for Bridges to the Past, sees the new land as one-part learning area and one-part community center. Bridges to the Past intends to build structures on site using primitive or older-style methods. These buildings could host things like a kitchen, blacksmith shop and meeting area.

“The structures will have integrity while reflecting the old style of buildings,” Farneman said. “We want to see our organization’s ethos reflected 100 percent in these buildings.”

The area where Between the Rivers could occur on this land would be about the same size, but with a more intimate and separated location (with the parking and gathering area further apart).

“The land is isolated so you can’t see lights from neighboring areas,” Farneman said. “We’re going to work and preserve the area and the feel of a wild, natural area.”

The land is close enough to the Valley School that they may be open to educational opportunities in the future for students.

Between the Rivers has seen classes from a variety of nationwide instructors who taught bows, basketry, blacksmithing, brain-tanning, buck-skinning, tanning fox furs, clothing and decoration, fibers including spinning and felting wool, cordage and weaving, flint knapping, leatherworking, hunting, traps and snares, lithic (stone) tools, seed saving and sustainable gardening, shelters, silversmithing, survival skills, weapons, wild food and medicinals as well as woodworking musical instruments, friction fire and more. It’s this considerable amount of knowledge that now can be passed down in a permanent location.

Development of the land will not be the goal of Bridges to the Past; it will still be a natural area, preserved for people in the area. Between the Rivers can feel like a trip back to a time before cell phones and laptops. While the future plan for the land will be some permanent structures, they will be intended to help Bridges to the Past and Between the Rivers’ mission.

For more info on the Bridges to the Past organization, you can visit their Facebook at and

If you are interested in learning more, or finding out how you can help, please contact Patrick Farneman at