Smith Rock loomed against the wide expanse of blue sky. The smell of freshly brewed coffee permeated the air, and a pair of energetic rabbits frolicked around the campsite.
Anelise Zimmer ’16 witnessed these sights when she awoke to the 6 a.m. sunrise. But what struck her most was how a jagged rock formation in Central Oregon’s high desert could bring together 12 students and three professional climbing guides to appreciate the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
“Moments like those are why I enjoy the outdoors,” Zimmer says. “They humble me and reset my entire outlook on life.”
Zimmer has experienced many such adventures through Willamette’s Outdoor Program. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the student-run program gives students an affordable means to build connections with their peers while exploring Oregon’s natural wonders.
“When I was back in Salem the next day, I had sore forearms and some scrapes on my shins from rock-climbing. But I grew fond of them as souvenirs from an awesome trip,” Zimmer says. “The support from the group was inspiring and made me feel even more a part of the Willamette community.”
When students Jen Regan ’07 and Lisa Frost ’07 began the Outdoor Program in 2005, the club organized 20 trips a year. Since then, it’s evolved into a campus institution boasting 120 annual excursions — from hiking and whale watching to whitewater rafting and horseback riding.
“I think students are coming [to Willamette], in part, because of the program,” says Bryan Schmidt, director of Campus Recreation. “The outdoors is such an important aspect of being in the Pacific Northwest, and Willamette is in the thick of it.”
Unlike similar programs at other universities, Willamette’s Outdoor Program isn’t out to make a profit. Nor is it run by campus staff.
Instead, students manage the budget and schedule the excursions, charging an average of $5 to each student participant. The university allocates a small annual budget of approximately $5,000 for the program, while ASWU covers the rest of the expenses for gear and trips.
For the 2015-06 school year, ASWU awarded $48,382 to the Oregon Activities Council, which houses the Outdoor Program. The program runs the trips, manages the gear, and performs outreach for the kayak, climbing, ski and snowboard, and backpacking clubs.
“The program provides a place and platform for students to grow, learn and transform,” Schmidt says. “It’s about providing learning opportunities for students and giving them real responsibilities.
Last year, more than 1,000 students took advantage of Outdoor Program trips and events. So far this semester, 1,068 students have participated in 68 trips.
All the excursions usually fill up within hours, with the day trips to the Columbia River Gorge and Cape Lookout on the Oregon Coast receiving particularly positive feedback.
“Being outside is very therapeutic, but with my busy school schedule I am not able to get outdoors as much as I would like,” Zimmer says. “Day hikes provide a way for students like me to get off campus, recharge and get some exercise in a beautiful setting without missing too much valuable weekend homework and sleep time.”
This year, the program introduced two new offerings. The Adventure Series gives students the chance to try more challenging outdoor adventures, such as rock-climbing trips that require experience. Closer to home, the Explore Salem program introduces them to Salem’s parks and outdoor areas.
Schmidt hopes to add a climbing wall, outdoor campsite and equipment demonstration spaces on campus as other catalysts to unite the Willamette community.
“I love seeing students contribute to the development of our community through their own passions,” he says. “Then it becomes less about you and more about creating something that’s going to last.”
Check Out Our Outdoor Stuff!
From coolers and backpacks to headlamps and yoga mats, the Outdoor Program has a variety of supplies available for student use — all for an affordable price.
Check out the list below for some examples. Students can make their reservations at the Outdoor Program office in the Montag Center.
Inventory (with number of items and cost per item):
• 10 backpacks — $3/day
• 5 compasses — free
• 8 coolers — $1/day
• 8 large dry bags — $1/day
• 3 small dry bags — $1/day
• 2 hydration packs — $1/day
• 11 headlamps — $1/day
• 51 sleeping bags — $3/day
• 18 yoga mats — $5/semester