For a 2016 graduate of Fort Lewis College, the climbing, rafting and hiking offered by the college’s Outdoor Pursuits program instilled self-confidence, leadership training and broadened horizons. The speaker, a member of the Santa Domingo Pueblo, said there were aching muscles and blisters gained carrying a raft through sagebrush country in search of a river. A second trip, over much the same terrain but now as a leader, was much easier, she said.
About a dozen students, some in person and some in pre-recorded videos, shared similar stories of personal growth and accomplishment acquired while climbing Engineer Mountain, rafting the San Juan, hiking the Grand Canyon and desert country of southern Utah and more distant locations, such as Alaska and South America.
The event last Saturday was the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Outdoor Pursuits program, which has introduced outdoor experiences to thousands of students. The series of directors of OP took turns sharing, with much humor, their memories of the program’s significant activities and accomplishments during its 40 years.
OP was created by Dolph Kuss, a former Durango city recreation director who joined the college faculty and began to offer as many students as possible outdoor experiences in the Four Corners and beyond. While Kuss built and shaped OP, he also grew a nationally recognized Nordic ski program for the college, which would send eight skiers to the Olympics. Kuss coached the U.S. Nordic team in two Olympics.
One of those Olympians, Mike Elliott, described Kuss as creating an outdoor lifestyle for Durango, and labeled him the patriarch of local skiing. Elliott said Kuss expected high standards from everyone, and allowed no whining.
For the community, Kuss got Chapman Hill up and running, utilizing a used tow from Leadville.
When everyone who had participated in a program which Kuss had led was asked to stand, whether in skiing, with OP or in city recreation, almost the entire room was on its feet. “This is your heritage,” Kuss, seated in front, was told.
There was frequent praise for all that the Four Corners has to offer in outdoor experiences, and for the value of “place,” which is such an important part of local life and lifestyle.
Fort Lewis students, an estimated 25-30 percent, participate in one or more OP activities.
All student learning does not all take place in the classroom, and the college is as fortunate to have OP, as Durango has been fortunate to have Dolph Kuss.