Across the country, campus rec departments recently took groups of students on a variety of explorations outdoors in the form of spring break trips. St. Cloud State University (SCSU) Campus Recreation led one such expedition as students visited six national parks, hiked 23 miles, visited 10 states and drove a total of 4,362 miles.
Melissa Bates, the assistant director of Campus Recreation, said this is the second year the department went on the nine-day National Parks Road Trip.
“While planning our Outdoor Recreation trips for the upcoming year in the summer of 2021, our director, Calvin Diggs, said we should take students to five national parks,” said Bates. “I agreed and knew it was a huge opportunity not only for our department but for the students. Last year we drove to Las Vegas, Nevada, and first visited Death Valley National Park. We made our way north and visited six national parks and it was a huge success.”
Planning for this year’s trip, Bates knew she wanted to change things up and visit six new parks. To make the idea a reality, Bates said Campus Recreation and Outdoor Recreation receives support from university partners like Dr. Katrina Rodriguez, the vice president of Student Affairs; Dr. Jason Woods, the vice president for Strategic Enrollment Management; and Dr. Robyn Wacker, the university president.
“They have all supported this huge adventure and are as excited for the students as Campus Recreation is,” said Bares. “We also utilize the largest university van as we drive everywhere. A large charter bus would not work, unfortunately, because we would not be able to find parking near VooDoo Donuts in Denver, Colorado, which is a staple of this trip.”
Trip Details and Parks Visited
Bates said the group stopped at the following national parks and famous landmarks during the trip:
- The Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, Missouri.
- The memorial for Martin Luther King Jr. at Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
- Hot Springs National Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
- Bill Clinton’s childhood home in Hope, Arkansas.
- Camping at Big Bend National Park in Texas.
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.
- Carlsbad Caverns National park in Carlsbad, New Mexico.
- White Sands National park near Alamogordo, New Mexico.
- Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.
“The biggest highlight for me is seeing the students on the trip get excited when we arrive to a new park. It never gets old,” said Bates. “The students really loved our hikes in each park and especially White Sands National Park in New Mexico. The hike and sunset there were breathtaking. We were able to sled down the dunes, too.”
Bates said the National Parks Road Trip will now be a school and Campus Recreation tradition due to its overall success the past two years.
Benefits and Advice
Bates said students who join these trips talk about them with their friends afterwards. The conversations boost future national parks trips as well as the department’s other day and weekend trips.
“It has definitely contributed to the success of Outdoor Recreation here at SCSU,” said Bates. “Many of the students who join us on these adventures are international students. This is an opportunity to see a country’s beautiful parks, learn the history surrounding each region we visit, and build relationships and friendships with others. We also encourage students to purchase the National Parks Service passport books to get stamps at each park they visit. This also encourages them to continue their adventures in the future.”
When planning a trip of similar size, Bates advised for other campus rec departments to plan well ahead before the start of the academic year. When the academic year begins, create a marketing push around the trip.
“Reach all aspects of the campus, do tabling, speak at events, put out flyers and do digital marketing — especially if it’s the first trip of this kind for the program,” said Bates. “Reserve the hotel rooms and campsites as soon as the trip destinations are known. Try to only use vans for transportation and not charter buses. This allows access to more remote areas of parks. Google Maps is also your best friend. Lastly, think big and have fun.”
Other Campus Rec Trips
Wright State University
During Wright State University’s Spring break earlier this month, Campus Recreation lead a small but eventful backpacking trip in Southwest Arkansas. After a 12-hour dive to the state, the expedition covered three days of hiking which included a total of 40 river crossings. One of the trip’s highlights was visiting Little Missouri Falls before starting the Eagle Rock Hiking Loop. After three days of hiking, the group returned to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and got some rest in a hotel for a night before embarking on the journey back home.
California State University San Marcos
Adding to the trend of Spring break trips is California State University San Marcos’ (CSUSM) recent seven-day journey to Hawaii. Led by Outdoor Adventures, CSUSM students took part in a service project near Hilo, swam with manta rays in Honokōhau and ziplined through the Hakalau Forest, among other excursions. They also learned outdoor ethics, Leave No Trace principles, cooking, group dynamics and environmental stewardship. The trip was open to all students, but a 2.5 GPA and full application was required to attend. The trip cost per student was $1,250.
Penn State University
Penn State University’s Spring break trip was also led by Outdoor Adventures. This journey was a week-long hiking, backpacking and camping outing in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. The location is a designated National Natural Landmark and has over 150 freestanding sandstone arches. Attendees were able to see remote areas of the gorge while also learning backcountry skills such as tent setup, cooking, water treatment and minimum-impact camping practices
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