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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University June 23, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 38
Get Out!

Sporting the tools of Outdoor Pursuits' trades are Phil Friesen, experiential education coordinator; junior Jessica Gifford, a climbing instructor; and sophomore Justin Silverman, a kayaking instructor.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Looking for some fresh-air adventure? Check out JHU's Outdoor Pursuits

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

In the summer of 2000, Phil Friesen stepped into the office of Bill Harrington, then JHU's recreational sports director, to offer his outdoor expertise to an urban university not exactly well versed in the vernacular of kayak sculls, pitons and spelunking.

Friesen, who has a master's degree in experiential education from Minnesota State University, had just moved to Maryland from California, where he had spent five years leading wilderness trips for a private company. He missed the outdoors and thought that Johns Hopkins students could use more fresh-air experiences.

Harrington and Friesen instantly hit if off. The pair, in fact, spent much of that initial meeting discussing hoops, in particular their mutual love of Hoosier basketball and the Boston Celtics.

Harrington, now senior associate director for athletics and recreation, says that Friesen arrived at just the right time. Plans were under way for a new recreation center on the Homewood campus, and Harrington was looking to expand the university's outdoor offerings, which at the time were done piecemeal through the student-led Outdoors Club, founded in 1973.

"The climate had changed on campus about that time. Students were much more receptive and interested in outdoor trips. They wanted to go kayaking and climbing and travel farther distances to do that sort of thing," Harrington said. "But we needed expertise in order to do that, and I was looking to bring in new people — and in walks Phil. It was the perfect storm."

These days, the sight of a Johns Hopkins student — or faculty or staff member — screaming down whitewater rapids or rappelling down a mountain is not an uncommon one, thanks to Friesen and Outdoor Pursuits, the university's increasingly popular experiential program that he runs.

Building upon the momentum that Friesen generated in his first two years at Johns Hopkins as an independent contractor, the Office of Recreation hired him full time in 2002 for the new position of experiential education coordinator and in 2003 created Outdoor Pursuits to expand the number of adventure trips and formalize the outdoor program.

Freshman kayakers get ready to ride the rapids near Harper's Ferry, W.Va., on their 2007 preorientation trip.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

In its first year, Outdoor Pursuits hosted 17 day and weekend trips, then limited to whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. It also offered instructor training and a pre-orientation outdoor program for incoming freshmen, which it now hosts annually. This year, more than 100 incoming freshmen will take part in the pre-orientation outdoor program, which will feature six different wilderness experiences in Maryland and West Virginia.

Based on demand, Outdoor Pursuits has since added hiking, caving, mountaineering, canoeing, mountain biking, sailing, fly-fishing and sea kayaking trips to its schedule.

In the 2007-2008 academic year, the program operated 80 trips, including a canoe expedition in Gunpowder Falls State Park, sailboat races in the Inner Harbor and a whitewater kayaking trip on the Potomac River. The majority of experiences are day and weekend trips that take place in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, but the program also hosts longer excursions, such as a six-day kayak trip in Tennessee and a two-week mountaineering adventure in the Quito region of Ecuador.

The upcoming academic year will again feature 80 trips, offered at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. Trips typically cost from $5 to $60, with many in the $10 to $20 range. Originally serving students, staff and faculty, the program was recently opened to community members.

Outdoor Pursuits also offers instruction in all the activities it hosts, leadership training and a wilderness first-responder course, conducted in partnership with the Wilderness Medical Institute of the National Outdoor Leadership School.

Its trips are led by students, who all must go through the 10-day intensive Hopkins Outdoor Leadership Training course and be certified in CPR and wilderness first response. Currently, Outdoor Pursuits has 77 student leaders and two full-time staff, Friesen and Matt Hardy, the program's assistant director.

This spring, Outdoor Pursuits moved its "base camp" from a small office in the basement of the O'Connor Recreation Center to a larger multiroom space, accessible from the side of the center that faces the ROTC building.

Friesen said that the new Base Camp, slated for some polishing up over the summer, will allow Outdoor Pursuits to be more visible and better achieve its mission. Eventually, he hopes, it will serve as a meeting place where students will come to find out about upcoming trips and learn about the outdoors from books in its library.

"We want people here to have opportunities to have fun outdoors and learn new skills," he said. "Our trips also offer a chance to blow off steam and get away from the stress of academic life, even if it's just a lazy canoe trip one afternoon."

Jessica Gifford, a student leader and climbing instructor, said that many trip participants are doing an activity for the first time, whether it's climbing a steep cliff or braving the rapids in a kayak.

"They love it. We have a lot of fun," Gifford said. "It can really be an adventure when we go out."

Nearly 450 people took part in the program's trips last year, Friesen said, and he expects to easily surpass that number this year.

Harrington said that he is not surprised by the success of Outdoor Pursuits.

"I knew our growth would be in this area," he said. "Our intramural and sports clubs continue to do well, but the biggest increase in participation has been the outdoors program, by far."

Harrington, in particular, said he appreciates the leadership experience the student guides receive.

"These wilderness experiences are a natural for that," he said. "They are doing something they love, and that gives them satisfaction, and then teaching that to others. We are giving them skills they can really take with them, wherever they go."

To learn more about Outdoor Pursuits, and for a calendar of upcoming trips, go to: outdoor_pursuits.


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