Outdoor excursions

A student balances on a rope to practice slacklining by the UTD soccer fields as part of a clinic offered by University Recreation’s outdoor excursion program on Oct. 13. Photo by Ian Bird | Mercury Staff.

Students interested in exploring local destinations and learning outdoor skills such as zip lining and campfire building and can now attend trips with other like-minded students.

University Recreation launched an outdoor excursions program that offers day trips led by a UREC staff member to various locations in North Texas. The excursions take place once a month, and 10 to 12 students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

The idea for the program emerged last school year when Ben Piper, the associate director of programs of UREC, proposed the idea to Carly Johnston, the aquatics coordinator. Johnston contacted other universities with successful outdoor programs and combined them with ideas from her own experiences of traveling to introduce the program at the start of the fall semester.

“We actually went and visited SMU, and they have a really established outdoors program,” Johnston said. “They do week-long camping trips and even alternative spring breaks. It was really cool to see a program that had really grown.”

The first outing took place Sept. 9. A group of 10 students and UREC staff gathered on campus and traveled together to White Rock Lake in Dallas. There, they spent their time kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding.

Neuroscience senior Luis Vaquero said he and his friends were searching for activities to do together outside of campus when they discovered the new program offered by UREC.

“It was a good experience. We got our kayaks and we spent the entire time having fun,” Vaquero said. “I also got to meet a lot of new people that I would not get to meet otherwise.”

Liliana Trejo Jr., a biomedical engineering junior, said going to White Rock Lake with the program was a different experience than the trips she had taken before with her family.

“I’ve done outdoors things before but I was kind of forced to, because they were family trips. I’m usually not outdoorsy, but it was really fun because I went with my friends,” Trejo said. “I’m glad that they created this program and I hope that they expand it for more people.”

Through this program, students get the opportunities to not only participate in outdoors activities, but also to learn about North Texas, especially if they are among the growing population of international students or students from outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“We have a great campus, but there (is) other great stuff out there as well,” Johnston said. “Since we are University Recreation, we wanted to tie it into fun excursions and outdoors activities.”

In addition to the local trips, the UREC outdoor program also provides on-campus clinics, where students can learn new skills, such as building a campfire and slacklining. Students are not required to attend the clinic to take part in the trips, but the skills taught in the clinics are relevant to the excursions.

The remaining trips for fall semester include the zip line and treetop adventure at Go Ape Zip Line and Treetop Adventure in Plano on Oct. 20 and a nature walk and bouldering trip to Mineral Wells State Park on Nov. 4.

Johnston said she hopes the outdoor excursions program grows to be successful so that it will be able to receive more funding, allowing the program to accommodate more students who wish to participate in the events. She also hopes that the program will be able to offer longer trips to farther destinations in the future.

“Right now, we are really counting on student support to make the program successful. The first one was really popular and I’ve got my fingers crossed for the next one,” she said. “I’ve got a wish list of places I’d like to travel with students. Ultimately, I would love to do international travel.”

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