Outdoor Pursuits is credited as Fort Lewis College’s outdoor organization that provides educational training, outdoor resources and frequent trips for students.
Students at FLC are offered the ability to embark on a plethora of adventures, varying from hiking to ice-climbing to mountain biking to backpacking— experiences that would financially cost more through the average commercial company in Durango.
For FLC students, OP provides the same accommodations for a portion of the normal cost it would require, while still providing for the same resources and learning opportunities through adventures that normal commercial companies do, Brett Davis, the assistant director of Outdoor Pursuits said.
For instance, OP is expected to host 21 trips throughout this semester, according to their Fall 2019 Program Guide, which is advertised on their website, on flyers posted around campus and in the OP office located in the Student Life Center.
The OP fee for membership is included in every student’s yearly activity fee, meaning that OP membership is free and available to all students, Davis said. This is a relatively recent change in FLC policy, which began in 2018 as an effort to see an increase in student activity and membership in OP.
As a result of the change, OP has received a 27 percent jump in student memberships, Davis said.
Although membership to OP is included in every student’s activity fees, certain trips OP offers do require an additional cost, Davis said.
OP determines its cost for a trip by figuring out the fixed minimum cost to run a trip including food, transportation and fuel, among other costs, said Davis.
The trip cost does not charge for labor, nor does OP make any revenue from it, Davis said.
In an effort to make the trip more affordable to students, OP reduced the total number of the fixed minimum costs by 20 percent.
Student Leading Students
OP also has a student program called Student Outdoor Leadership, which teaches FLC students the skills it takes to help lead these trips, and gives them the opportunity to practice these abilities, Davis said. Depending on how dangerous the outdoor activity is, some trips are run only by SOL leaders.
Matt Cecil, a senior and SOL leader, explained that SOL is a section of OP focused solely on students leading these outdoor trips, which was implemented in 2011.
The most rewarding thing as a SOL leader has been having the opportunity to give back to other students and introduce them to the outdoors, Cecil said.
“It's really cool to share these things with people,” Cecil said. “You want to be sure you're providing the best experience you can for people who've paid to come to these places.”
Depending on the length of the trip, sometimes OP and SOL leaders begin planning trips months in advance, which includes detailing the routes of the trip and planning meals, Cecil said.
About two months in advance, OP starts planning detailed route information, Cecil said.
The prep side is not always noticeable, but there's a lot that goes into it.
Factors that determine whether a trip can be run by student leaders are analyzed from a risk management standpoint, Josh Kling, the coordinator of OP said. This includes the technicality of the activity and objective hazards.
Not all students take advantage of OP’s resources. Davis said he believes it may be because of a common misconception that students have to possess previous experience in the outdoors in order to sign up.
“It's open for everybody,” Davis said. “In fact, we want the student who's never done anything to come through our doors. We want to encourage them to do that and we want to share our passions so hopefully it becomes their passion.”
Ben Inverson, a freshman, discovered a newfound love for kayaking when he attended the beginner whitewater kayaking weekend early in the Fall 2019 semester.
“It definitely helped find my new passion for kayaking,” Inverson said. “I found my first rapid and I was hooked on it from the adrenaline and because of how amazing and fun the sport is.”
Inverson credits his enjoyment and newly learned skills to his experiences with OP.
“They taught me everything, so now I can go out on my own,” Inverson said.
OP trips provide new experiences and instruction to students, as well as the ability for students to connect with new people and establish new friendships.
Eddie Espienoza, an OP trip participant, described how the OP trips have helped students including him connect with other people and nature.
“The scenery and the environments are gorgeous and beautiful,” Espienoza said. “It's also really conducive to everybody opening their minds and absorbing it all. You're all doing that together.”
Outdoor Pursuits creates opportunities for students to explore the Four Corners and beyond from an outdoor setting, but also to explore themselves, Davis said.
“An old colleague of mine always said, our job is to put people in positions where they're safe, both physically and emotionally,” Davis said. “Then our job is to let the deserts, mountains, rivers and oceans to speak for themselves, because everybody's going to hear it differently.”