Katherine McGee

Summit Sisters at the Davis Center circle March 24. Left to right: Sophomore Amelia Veleber, secretary; junior Nicole Cohen, president; junior Giovanna Angiolini, treasurer; and sophomore Annabelle Paushter, social media manager.

Despite limitations, outing clubs aim to get more students outdoors

March 30, 2023

Boasting the Green Mountains and Lake Champlain, Burlington is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. So, it is no surprise that UVM has garnered a parallel reputation.

UVM offers 22 outdoor-related clubs, so students have a wide range of outdoor activities available to them, said Devin Farkas, assistant director of Outdoor Programs. 

“There are so many different avenues for outdoor exploration at UVM,” Farkas said. “There’s just a really large scope of ways for people to get into the outdoors that is definitely unique to UVM.”

When Izzy Lazarus ‘15, coordinator for Outdoor Programs, graduated from UVM, Outing Club and Ski & Snowboard Club were the only outdoor-related clubs UVM offered, she said.

“I was really involved when I was a student,” Lazarus said. “It was pretty much just the Outing Club that existed. Then, in my senior year, what is now [People of Color Outdoors] was starting to emerge. So that is a huge, really positive change, to see so many other clubs creating avenues for students to get outside and have those experiences.”

Skiers on a Chicks on Sticks trip in March 2020. Over the past few years, more and more outdoor-related clubs have sprung up at UVM. (Payton Kurrle)

A large benefit of these clubs is how they make obtaining certifications such as the Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder easier, Farkas said.

“WFA and WFR are the industry standard for employment in the outdoor industry,” Farkas said. “When I was in school, I had to pay for my own WFA or WFR if I wanted to lead trips for the program.”

With the SGA’s model, funding the required certifications for the club, students who are in those leadership courses get that credential for employment beyond college. 

The opportunities these clubs present are not lost on applicants. In a survey of 122 UVM students conducted by the Cynic, 31% said they have participated in at least one trip or event held by an outdoor-related club.

However, with large interest levels comes large numbers of participants, and these clubs are not able to take everyone.

“We had a lot of interest in the fall and felt really bad turning down so many people,” said sophomore Mary Cuff, a Wilderness Instruction Leadership Development coordinator for Outing Club. “Last semester, we had a very small program [in WILD] with four leaders teaching a class with 10 participants in total. We now doubled the groups, so now we have four groups of seven, which is really great.”

First-year Anna Meek, a member of Summit Sisters, Chicks on Sticks and SSC, notes the barriers some of these clubs face.

“It was pretty hard to get a spot [on trips],” Meek said. “Summit Sisters has been pretty difficult because it relies on people with cars at school who are willing to drive other members.”

Junior Nicole Cohen, president of Summit Sisters, recognizes this issue, but said accessibility within outdoor clubs is only improving.

“We’re actually in a big transition moment for the club,” Cohen said. “Summit Sisters is now on the SGA board and is going to have the application be on the SGA website. We’re pretty new and this year we are really diving into getting the logistic stuff done.”

Even as the second oldest outing club in the country, UVM’s Outing Club has been facing similar challenges of not being able to take everyone who is interested. They would like to start making moves to have a better relationship with the student body, said junior Molly Babowal, vice president of Outing Club.

“It’s challenging to get into these programs that we run,” Babowal said. “It’s frustrating if you don’t have a car on campus and you want to engage in the outdoors, and you log onto the ticket portal and everything’s already sold out. So we’re working on ways to be a better community resource to students at UVM.”

Farkas, who came into his position in January 2021, noted the growth he has seen within these clubs since the height of the pandemic.

“I’m seeing a lot more student initiative,” Farkas said. “I think with the pandemic, there were so many restrictions, so there were a lot of challenges just to get outside. So I feel like now I’m seeing a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”

Devin Farkas, assistant director of Outdoor Programs, in his office in Student Life in the Davis Center March 22. (Mac Mansfield-Parisi)

Summit Sisters, a hiking-centered club for female-identifying and non-binary people, is developing its own training program.

“We had a lot of changes going on this past year, which is all really exciting,” Cohen said. “In order to be a trip leader, you have to go through our training course which is called [Summit Sisters Leadership And Yay]. You learn outdoor safety and leading a hike and how to create a comfortable environment for a hike and all of that fun stuff.”

POCO has a similar goal with its program.

“We are a really tight-knit community,” said POCO Treasurer Jonah Stern, a senior. “[Cultivating Outdoor Cultures of Adventure] is a leadership development course that we are running this semester to train the next generation of POCO leaders. We developed this program to integrate important outdoor skills and community building with the values and goals of our club.”

The Outing Club offers a variety of different programs that cater to different outdoor interests. They have WILD, Kayak Paddling for Development and Canoe Paddling for Development, among many other programs, Babowal said.

As a WILD coordinator, Cuff works to cultivate wilderness leadership skills. This is a mandatory requirement for all Outing Club hiking trip leaders, according to the Outing Club website.

“I took TREK in freshman year, and my TREK leader really wanted us to get outside more,” Cuff said. “Joining a thing like WILD, for me, was the way for me to feel like it was a more tight-knit Outing Club community, which it definitely did for me.”

The outdoor community at UVM is a sprawling one, and is only growing, Farkas said.

“There’s a lot of people that are really excited for our club to exist,” Cohen said. “Our goal is really just to create a comfortable and fun environment to explore Vermont and get people outside.”

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