Exploring in Our Own Backyard

College Outdoors
  • Joe Yuska, College Outdoors Director
    Steve Hambuchen

College Outdoors typically prides itself on offering student experiences like backpacking trips in the Wallowas, surfing lessons on the Oregon Coast, or kayaking adventures on Waldo Lake. But in order to implement social distancing during the pandemic, College Outdoors had to rethink its entire trip itinerary.

During fall semester, the office got creative to offer trips right in Lewis & Clark’s backyard. The college partnered with Tryon Creek State Park (through a special use permit) to offer regular backpacking trips, camping in a location off the normal trail system. Even though the hikes were short, students were happy just to get off campus.

Many student groups, like the Queer Student Union (QSU), the Black Student Union (BSU), and the Asian Student Union (ASU), took advantage of the opportunity to host group-specific trips. The ASU, for example, cooked Asian recipes on backpacking stoves outside the College Outdoors warehouse.

“You couldn’t have a group of 10 people in a kitchen, but you could have them outside individually on different stoves,” says Joe Yuska, director of College Outdoors.

College Outdoors also hosted “Leave No Trace” certification backpacking trips, along with workshops that centered on cooking with dutch ovens or basket weaving with invasive species. Students explored nature on campus with ethnobotany and edible plants trips, mushroom clinics, and photography and nature meditation sessions.

Yuska said that these shorter trips on and near campus made College Outdoors more accessible. Rather than having to dedicate an entire day or weekend to a trip, students could take an hour-long study break and make tea out of Douglas fir needles (and other native plants) on campus.

Yuska said the office will try to keep this kind of programming even when students can gather in close spaces and go on weekend trips, but these excursions are not a substitute for backpacking trips on Mount St. Helens or paddleboarding adventures on the Columbia River Gorge. Since the annual New Student Trips were held virtually in the fall, College Outdoors hopes to host multiday May trips after finals so first-year students can get a taste of the Pacific Northwest’s many wonders.