Outdoor Rec goes West

A group of Outdoor Recreation Management (ORM) students kicked off the summer with two weeks of desert adventures as they set off across the western U.S. This valuable experiential learning intensive allowed students from all class levels to apply their outdoor recreation knowledge in a variety of environments.

The group loaded up their outdoor van with camping gear and their minds with the skills, techniques, and strategies that they gained in class, and took off on their drive through the West.

“We started at the Grand Canyon, and then we did all the parks in Utah: Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and then Arches. From there we went up north and did Tetons and Yellowstone,” Program Coordinator for Outdoor Recreation Management Katie Wall said. “We worked on a lot of place-based work throughout the semester before we left. Then once we get out there the students have a better understanding of the importance and history of the places.”

At the Grand Canyon the group hiked the Rim Trail, an easy-level hike along the South Rim of the canyon, and the Bright Angel Trail, which descends more than 4,000 feet from the South Rim into the canyon.

“When I first saw the canyon, I couldn’t believe how far the canyon extended,” rising sophomore Emily Ruff said via the ORM Instagram. “I was left speechless.”

Zion National Park was next, where the group hiked the Narrows, a tight gorge carved in Zion Canyon by the Virgin River. Unlike most traditional hiking trails, exploring the Narrows requires hikers to walk through the river itself. Followed by Bryce Canyon National Park, and Canyonlands National Park, the group got their fill of hiking, but not of the beautiful scenery.

“The sheer scale of rock formations was unfathomable even after scrambling to the top of a variety of structures,” rising junior Aaron Van Nostrand said via the ORM Instagram of the group’s time in Canyonlands National Park. “The history of the area was on full display with a cowboy camp within the park and both petroglyphs and pictographs scattered about our campsite and hiking trails.”

These kinds of experiences are impossible to replicate in the classroom but are essential to receiving a well-rounded ORM education. For Wall, being able to provide these experiences for her students is extremely special.

“Overall, my favorite part of it was just watching and listening to the students when we go into a new park or a new environment. The looks on their faces, their expressions, what they’re saying to their groups—it’s heartwarming,” Wall said. “They are so excited and in awe of some of these places.”

In Moab, Utah, the group got to test out some of their other skills, including a 10-mile kayaking expedition on the Colorado River, and canyoneering in the North Wash Canyon two hours outside of the city.

“We went canyoneering, and canyoneering oftentimes is very location specific, so even our students who had climbed or had done a lot of hiking or mountain biking had never gone canyoneering,” Wall said. “It’s nice to be able to broaden their perspectives on some of the activities that we don't get to do on a regular basis here in the Appalachian Mountains.”

Throughout all the parks, the students were able to practice the cooking, camping, and hiking skills that they learn in the classroom, expanding on these principles to truly become experts in their field of study.

“We offer an outdoor living skills class that is required for all ORM majors and minors, and it helps them with camp craft and being more comfortable living and working in the outdoors, and then they get a Leave No Trace trainer certification,” Wall said. “I think just being able to have extended periods of time in the outdoors and the backcountry helps students hone those skills even more deeply.”

While these lessons are important, Wall said that this hands-on experience is essential to majoring in Outdoor Recreation Management and is part of what makes studying at Lees-McRae so unique. This trip, which Wall said has become a keystone element of the ORM program, is one of four major trips that she hopes to conduct on a cycle for ORM students.

Trips like the ocean water skills trip, which will take place in the Bahamas this year, and the Outdoor Retailer Conference trip in Denver, Colorado, provide an unparalleled experiential learning experience that is essential to having a well-rounded understanding of the ORM field.

“There’s this idea, ‘do the mountains speak for themselves, or do you speak for the mountains?’ I think for this trip I often let the mountains speak more for themselves,” Wall said. “Yes, I can give a lesson on cryptobiotic soil, or Leave No Trace in a canyon setting, or help give them some more backcountry cooking skills, and I think that that’s meaningful, but I think what they really take away are the experiences they have themselves; what the mountains show them versus what I’m telling them they should pull from that.”

By Maya JarrellJune 20, 2022