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Outdoor Pursuits

Helping Bears Get Out There

UNC's donor-supported Outdoor Pursuits program makes outdoor recreation possible for all students, faculty and staff.

Colorado offers boundless recreational opportunities, but they aren’t always accessible to everyone. UNC’s Outdoor Pursuits — with SCHEELS’ philanthropic support — helps the UNC community get outside and find a sense of belonging. This unique program helps our campus community thrive socially, mentally, physically and academically.

“I see our program as a way to eliminate the barriers to entry to recreate in Colorado,” says Vicente Delgado ’20, assistant director of Outdoor Pursuits. “You have to hold a lot of privileges to be able to recreate in Colorado. Transportation and equipment are a huge barrier to entry. We do our best to take away as many of those barriers as possible — especially for those who’ve never recreated before.”

Outdoor Pursuits, part of the Office of Campus Recreation, offers faculty, staff and students access to more than 2,000 pieces of equipment (which they can borrow free of charge), education, workshops and travel. This makes it possible for everyone in the UNC community to experience the outdoors and connect with others in a meaningful way.

In 2021, the program served nearly 900 students and loaned more than 3,500 pieces of equipment, which included everything from tents and bikes to snowshoes and even mittens. Students and others rented more than 220 bikes, and 570 people participated on ropes courses and 184 students headed out on 24 adventure trips.

And much of the equipment is available to students thanks to a generous partnership with SCHEELS, a sporting goods store with 30 locations in 13 states. SCHEELS Johnstown offers more than 250,000 square feet of retail space, including a 65-foot Ferris wheel restored from the 1930s. They also employ UNC students and generously give back to the community.

“Every year SCHEELS gives us financial support to expand our equipment we rent to the university community for free. So, all our gear rentals — everything we do — is essentially either free for students or extremely subsidized,” Delgado says.

Janae Burich, marketing leader for SCHEELS Johnstown says that when the company opened the location in 2017, they sought ways to make a difference locally through philanthropic support. She says UNC’s Outdoor Pursuits program offered them an opportunity to reach out beyond intercollegiate athletics and have a direct impact on the university community.

“(Outdoor Pursuits) empowers students to be able to use all these different pieces of outdoor rec equipment,” says Burich. “A lot of students may not have the resources to purchase their own equipment or fund their own trips, or even have the expertise to understand, ‘how do I go camping for a weekend, what do I need to do?’ I think that was the really cool thing — that we can help supply that equipment to help the UNC community build relationships and get an introduction to a lot of these potential passions they can carry with them the rest of their lives.”

Delgado says that the support from SCHEELS helps close that resource gap that can be such a barrier for many students.

“We have a lot of people who go on our trips who say they’re from Greeley and they’ve never been to Rocky Mountain National Park before. It is so powerful to take people to such a great resource that is in our backyard,” Delgado says. “We also employ students who may have zero outdoor recreation experience, and we train those students to lead hiking trips, how to go climbing, etc. So, we’re providing opportunities to greater campus, and to our 18 student employees who are trained and given experience that they might have not had.”

Delgado says that students, trained across a wide range of activities, share their knowledge and expertise with students who attend trips or workshops.

"We have trip leaders who are trained in backpacking, climbing, paddling and other activities so that we can facilitate safe experiences for students, so that they can see the benefits of recreating outside and take advantage of the recreation resources that we have in Colorado."

Two of those Outdoor Pursuits employees are Emily Wood, a senior in Environmental Science, and Alison Zigler ’22, who recently earned her degree in Exercise Science and Psychology.

“My freshman year, I went on one of Outdoor Pursuits’ trips, and it was just really inclusive, and everybody was super nice. When I applied here and got the job, it brought me out of my shell,” says Wood. “I’ve talked to so many more people and I love being able to share my love for the outdoors with other people at the university, and hopefully impact them like the people that impacted me my first year."

Zigler says that the program is what helped her choose to come to UNC from Wisconsin.

“While I was on my campus tour, I learned about Outdoor Pursuits and to find out it was for free was a huge selling point for me. It’s what brought me here. It’s just made such a big impact on me.”

Zigler says it’s also impacted friends on campus and given them ways to connect that might not have happened without SCHEELS’ support. "

Literally, Outdoor Pursuits has led to all our adventures. We went on a spring break trip to Utah and all the gear was provided by Outdoor Pursuits, and we could not have done it without SCHEELS’ support. A lot of my friends, finances are really hard for them, so to purchase all that gear for a week-long trip wouldn’t be possible.”

Wood says that it also makes for a more inclusive college experience.

“As an individual in college starting off, you don’t have a lot of friends or you don’t have the equipment or the experience to go out and do things by yourself," says Woods. "I think our trips are a great way to make friends and be able to stay inclusive with other experiences.”

Wood hopes to complete the program’s Wilderness Outdoor Responders course this year, a 10-day course that builds a foundation of medical intervention skills in the backcountry. This is just one of many courses and trips students have access to.

When asked what’s planned for the coming academic year, Delgado shares a long list. “Outdoor rock climbing, backpacking and canoeing. Day hikes that we call recharge where we essentially leave technology behind. Every fall we do a paddleboarding day, and every spring break we go to Moab for a week and go to Arches National Park.”

Also planned for this fall? Adaptive recreation — from rock climbing with a full-body harness to seated volleyball — to make recreation accessible for everyone. Burich says that empowering students to have those experiences has been rewarding.

“It’s why I love working for SCHEELS. There’s this give back attitude. We sell outdoor recreation and sporting equipment, but ultimately our goal is to really sell people on the experience,” Burich says.

SCHEELS has extended their support to include Campus Recreation as well, providing resources for intramural and club sports as well as other campus recreation opportunities.

“I think it’s just such a cool thing that (UNC students) can partake in these adventures. For all these activities, it just kind of helps them find that work-life balance — they work hard and play hard in a fun, productive and healthy way,” she says.

– written by Debbie Moors

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