Adventure Outings’ Journey to Outdoor Excellence
The first week of every new semester is Adventure Outings’ own little adventure.
That’s when its office, nestled in the Bell Memorial Union basement, becomes a beacon for outdoor enthusiasts bearing excitement, questions and answers, conversation, and general hubbub. Lines wind through the office and out into the halls. The reason: students, faculty, and staff have hustled down to get a coveted spot on one of Adventure Outings’ trips.
AO Assistant Director Keith Crawford said the group offers approximately 30 trips throughout the semester for a total of 500 to 600 seats.
AO’s trips have generated excitement since the group started in 1984. To see why, just peruse the fall 2016 semester’s schedule: Lava Tubes Caving and Camping, Introduction to Rock Climbing, Juniper Lake Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP), Yoga, Tomales Bay Sea Kayaking, and the Mount Lassen Summiting Challenge.
And those are just September’s trips. The spring 2017 schedule will be released during finals week in December.
AO recognizes that outdoor recreation can potentially create extraordinary experiences for everyone. That’s why Crawford and Coordinator Jenna Walker, along with Pro Staff member Jessica Nelson, curate the trips to educate and help participants become stewards of the outdoors, a mission accomplished in a number of ways.
AO’s Equipment Rental Center is open to the public and includes equipment for camping and backpacking; skiing, mountaineering, and climbing; and for water sports including rafting, kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Walker says AO has over 400 outdoor items for rent, and that more than 3,500 items were rented during the most recent fiscal year.
One of AO’s enduring contributions to Chico State’s outdoor community is the annual Banff Mountain Film Festival. This adventure film—featuring stomach-dropping footage with adventure sports all across the spectrum—annually sells out Laxson Auditorium. So, for the first time, the film will be presented over two nights next spring, on April 13-14.
AO also maintains a backcountry yurt in Colby Meadows, just past Butte Meadows. Crawford describes the yurt as “a mix between a canvas tent and a cabin. It’s a circular, permanent structure. Its floor is made of wood, and the sides and roof are canvas.” A yurt sleeps up to six people comfortably and features a picnic table and a working fireplace inside. In the winter, people can snowshoe right into the yurt, which rents for $50 per night.
The latest effort to bring Chico’s outdoor community together involves Chico State’s Institute for Sustainable Development in Outdoor Nation, which challenged colleges and universities across the country to log outdoor activities ranging from running, hiking, and biking to swimming, kayaking, and rock climbing. Each activity is worth a certain number of points. The school with the highest number of points after six weeks will earn the title of the nation’s “Most Outdoorsy School”.
For anyone who is considering attending an AO trip, but hasn’t signed up yet, Walker gives two words of advice: Do it!
“The vast majority of the trips are introductory, with no skills or experience required,” she said. “We have participants each semester who experience their first overnight camping trip on an AO trip.”
The organization’s goal is to make every trip accessible for everyone, with scholarships available for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Trips are open to the general public, as well as to Chico State staff and faculty, helping to bridge the gap between education and recreation.
“I think it helps students learn a lot more if they go to awesome places and this biology or archaeology professor is along for the ride,” said Crawford. “For example, going down into the Grand Canyon with a geology professor sounds amazing.”
Interestingly, a huge portion of trip takers are international students.
“They see the trips and say, ‘You’re going to Santa Cruz? You’re going to Lassen National Park? Yosemite? Sign me up’,” Crawford said. “We’ve had Study Abroad students literally sign up for a trip every weekend with us, and three or four is really common for them. They get to see Chico all week, and they want to see the whole state.”
The AO staff really keep the program moving.
Other than the three Pro Staff employees, the rest of AO’s staffers are students, although an occasional training is contracted out to a professional group. Once they’re part of AO, staffers soon discover that being involved is more than just strapping on a backpack, climbing into a kayak, or putting up a tent.
“I tell people that come in that it’s like joining a sports team, or a fraternity or sorority. There are meetings, you’ll go on weekend trips,” Crawford said. “Occasionally, we’ll find someone who says it’s not for them. Most people, though, get in and it becomes a big family for them. It consumes their free time and they like it.”
Students selected as leaders go through a five-day Foundations of Outdoor Leadership training session, which is led by a Pro Staff member, to become familiar with the program and the policies. The next semester they start as assistant leaders, unpaid positions that come with class credit.
Eventually, an assistant leader can become a trip leader, which is a paid position. People with this job are required to get their Class B driver’s license so they’re allowed to drive multi-passenger vans and complete a checklist of skills including basic first aid and CPR.
Many trip leaders go on to get Wilderness First Responder training, a 10-day, 80-hour medicine course that’s contracted out to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Other trainings include rock climbing, surfing, avalanche risk management, and winter camping.
Having worked together for four years, Walker and Crawford believe they’ve crafted Adventure Outings into one of the nation’s elite collegiate outdoor recreation programs.
“We think we’re one of the best outdoor rec programs at a university in the country,” Crawford said. “And we can get even better.”