TREK expands programming to include mountain biking and LGBTQ groups

Addie Beach, Senior Staff Writer

Miles of lush green forests and stark mountains make up the Vermont wilderness, perfect for hiking, skiing and college.

TREK is a program for UVM first-year and transfer students that takes place the week before classes and lets its participants take advantage of the state’s outdoors.

Divided into wilderness and community service tracks and guided by both upperclassmen and professionals, TREK sends students on trips to encourage engagement, self-discovery and connection to classmates, according to the TREK website.

TREK will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year, and this past summer enrolled nearly 300 students, said John Abbott, UVM Outdoor Program coordinator.

“We want to provide more access,” Abbott said. “At the same time, we don’t want to dilute the experience.”

In pursuit of this goal, TREK celebrated the addition of two new programs this year.

The inaugural mountain biking program was designed in response to a demand for more backcountry activities, Abbott said.

Junior Jascha Herlihy was a student leader in the mountain biking program this year. It was her first time leading a TREK program. Herlihy found a supportive community that reflected the best parts of UVM, she said.

“Because everyone is okay with being weird in their own ways, it’s a community of respect and happiness,” Herlihy said. “I’ve never seen a community that’s so encouraging and outgoing.”

Thomas Turpin was one of the first-years who participated in the mountain biking TREK this summer.

Turpin and Herlihy both started biking as a way to supplement their off-season skiing but have since developed a passion for the sport.

“You have control without the simplicity of running,” Turpin said. “There’s more thought and technique.”

The program was challenging at first, but Turpin quickly found support within the TREK community, he said.

“It’s not just a way for you to meet people, but for everybody to get more connected,” Turpin said.

The chance for students to push themselves in an encouraging environment is one of the biggest perks, Abbott said.

“The thing that impresses me are the stories I hear back from students who were way out of their comfort zone,” he said.

Although Herlihy had a great experience on the trip, she expressed a need for greater representation in the future. She said that while other TREK groups have strong female turnouts, the mountain bike program was lacking.

“I wish there were more girls because it’s such a male-dominated sport,” Herlihy said. “Next year, I would really like to see them make a push toward females.”

TREK also hopes to make a bigger push for identity-based groups in the future, adding that this year they debuted a new Pride group focused on LGBTQ hikers, Abbott said.

“We’re trying to get as many historically underrepresented student groups to be able to participate and have that same gateway opportunity as possible,” he said.

Despite the TREK program’s expansion and growth, Abbott wants students to know the community building will be the same no matter the program, he said.

“The message we try to convey is, regardless of how you identify as an incoming student, regardless of your passion, regardless of what trip you do, the experience is similar,” Abbott said.