One of Durango’s best views of the La Plata Mountains is from Rim Drive on the Fort Lewis College campus. As the college seeks to increase its attractiveness to potential students and its enrollment, it makes sense to build upon that back drop.
This weekend, as the college celebrates 40 years of Outdoor Pursuits, one of its flagship outdoor programs, and its co-founder, Dolph Kuss, administrators would be wise to listen closely to the stories of returning alumni. They may not remember what they learned in a specific class, but they will never forget the commitment of a coach like Kuss, or a hard mountain, river or desert adventure and an outdoor leader that pushed them beyond their known limits.
Brett Davis, Outdoor Pursuits current and 10-year director, says the program specializes in “getting students outside to engage with the natural world, letting the deserts, rivers and mountains be the teachers.” O.P., as it is known colloquially, of course, teaches, too. Their purposes statement reads, “…to provide outdoor and social experiences emphasizing environmental awareness, outdoor education, challenge, personal development, managed risk, a sense of community, and fun.”
In other words, O.P. provides students an abundance of learning and life skills, an important complement to a well-rounded college education. The college may be catching on to the importance of supporting its popular sports and outdoor-based programs, from cycling and mountain biking to climbing, skiing and all the outdoor adventures O.P. offers.
Students certainly do. This year, they voted unanimously to raise student fees from $3.05 to $4.80 per credit hour to do away with O.P. and intramural program membership fees. Instead, the new revenue will support each program 70 percent and 30 percent, respectively, increasing access for all students who want to participate.
Currently, about 25 to 30 percent of the FLC student body, faculty and staff, takes advantage of the Outdoor Pursuits program that takes students annually on 40 to 50 student-led trips domestically and internationally. O.P. also issues 4,000 rental contracts per year for over 50 types of outdoor gear and employs between 30 to 40 students, the largest campus student employment program.
O.P. is not the only FLC program that takes advantage of the college’s natural setting as an outdoor classroom. The Native American Outdoor Club’s mission is “to experience the outdoors and its natural landscapes through adventure while connecting with our cultural heritage,” and the Environmental Center does, as well. Academic degree programs like geology and biology have led field camps in the San Juan Mountains for decades, and environmental studies, adventure education, anthropology and Southwest studies, among others, regularly use the outdoors for learning, too.
Outdoor education, environmental, natural and cultural heritage studies make a nice package to promote to prospective students. Doing so would leverage the college’s location, in the words of John Byrd, O.P.’s other co-founder, “to build upon the beautiful surroundings and outdoor education as the school’s natural strengths.” Let’s hope they do.
Don’t miss today’s Durango Diaries, “Skiing in the San Juans,” at 5:30 p.m. at the Powerhouse featuring Kuss, Tim Kroes, Jack Turner and Kim Dalen. And more information about this weekend’s “Celebration of Adventure” can be found at http://bit.ly/2pbxn6k.