Assistant Sports Editor
Every semester at UNC Asheville the university’s Campus Recreation department offers a plethora of outdoor sports and activities. Led almost completely by students, this fall includes 23 events including hiking, caving and white water kayaking.
Asheville’s location in the center of the Western North Carolina make it an ideal location to travel to national parks and mountainous landscapes suited for the programs Campus Recreation chooses for their activities.
“Asheville is definitely a hotspot for outdoor recreation,” said Outdoor Programs Coordinator Rowan Stuart, “We are unique in the amount of responsibility we give to our student staff. They are very well prepared and really run the programs themselves, under bounds of course.”
Stuart graduated in 2017, where she participated in the outdoor program throughout her college career. She returned as a full-time staff member this semester where she oversees the students as they train, prepare for upcoming excursions and to generally make the process run smoothly. Stuart can also act as a backup trip leader due to her many years of outdoor experience.
“I have always been interested in this stuff. My mom was a park ranger, and I have been doing professional white water kayaker since I was 12. When I came to UNCA, I was in Pre-Rendezblue wilderness experience, and it drew me into becoming a trip leader,” she said.
Pre-Rendezblue is an orientation program provided by UNCA that includes a variety of activities for incoming freshmen and transfer students. The wilderness experience is put on by the Campus Rec-Outdoor Programs where trip leaders will take new students on a four day hiking trip through the Pisgah National Forest. The backpacking acts as a catalyst for many students to return to the outdoors once the school year has begun.
“I’ve been a part of OP since my freshman year, when I participated in Pre-Rendezblue Wilderness Experience and then the Outdoor Leadership Training Program. I joined Outdoor Programs after absolutely falling in love with backpacking the year before I came to college, I knew that was something I wanted to continue doing along with others interested in the outdoors.”Junior trip leader Sydney Jones said.
The outdoor program is just one facet of the Campus Recreation which includes intramurals, working in the student rec center and aquatics. The outdoor programs also feature more than just guided day trips but also has outdoor gear rental, team building and maintains the bike shop located in the Highsmith Student Union.
Stuart and the trip leaders have put emphasis on the preparedness of their student staff and the accessibility of their programs to outdoor beginners.
“You usually feel overprepared rather than underprepared,” said trip leader Myles House, “Because we’re students taking other students on trips, they want to make sure we know what we are doing.”
Before House could become the trip leader, she underwent three levels of training to be able to take students on their own. Each level has a checklist of outdoor skills the student should be able to complete, with each passing checklist granting them more autonomy. The training program is called “OLTP” or the Outdoor Leadership Training Program. By the end of this program, leaders are trained for any program, from caving, camping, biking or white water kayaking.
House also finds that most of the students who sign up for these trips are beginners to outdoor sports. Trips only take one day to complete, are generally cheap to attend and includes all of the gear necessary. More experienced outdoorsmen will tend to try camping and kayaking by themselves.
This year they will begin featuring a longer white water kayaking trip and rock climbing trip for more experienced students. For travel, the trips stay within an hour and a half drive of campus for all their outdoor destinations.
The outdoor program also takes pride in their inclusion of different campus organizations to their wilderness tours. This semester, House will be a trip leader for a transitional parent rafting trip taking place on parents weekend. Campus Recreaction will also be leading a camping trip with international students and often partners with the many living learning communities on campus.
Because the outdoors encompasses so many different sports, the leaders each have a lot of activities to choose their favorites.
“I like going on caving trips,” said House, “We travel about four and a half miles underground in Woorley’s Cave located in Tennessee. I think I’ve done that about ten times.”
“I most enjoy climbing and mountain biking for the thrill of the sport, but I most enjoy backpacking for the priceless friendships and memories that come out of those trips. Caving is one of our most popular programs, because it’s such a unique experience that’s hard to find elsewhere.” Senior trip leader Sam Creech said.
If you live in America, statistically, you have most likely participated in some form of outdoor sports in the past year. In 2016, 144 million Americans or 48.8 percent of the country’s population hiked, rode their bikes, scaled a cliff face or participated at least once in an outdoor activity according to a study by Outdoorindustry.com. With the Campus Recreation outdoor programs, the idea of outdoor sports will continue to be introduced to the students of UNC Asheville.