Outdoor program offers new, unique experiences



Spencer Thompson

The Outdoor Program at the South Dakota State Wellness Center gives students plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors through a variety of trips and services.

Justin Parks, coordinator of the Outdoor Program, plans the trips for each semester. With every new outing, he hopes to make them more accessible and enjoyable for all students.

“My job is to get people outside and provide them the resources to do that in a safe, fun and exciting manner,” he said.

The program is only in its second year, but Parks is confident the program will continue to grow as more students enroll and use its services.

“I think it should grow more, it’s a great program,” said Caleb Kervin, a natural resource law enforcement major. “It’s good to focus on being outdoors.”

With growth comes a wider array of activities each semester. Perhaps the biggest upcoming opportunity for students will be the March 3 to 11 spring break trip to Red River Gorge, in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky.

Parks has a lot planned for Red River Gorge, and he’s excited for students to be able to try new things and explore the region.

“It has some beautiful, amazing deep ridges with beautiful vistas and valleys,” Parks said.

The trip will begin with a three-day backpacking adventure along a few of its National Recreation Trails.

Parks plans on rock climbing being one of the main features of the trip, as the area is renowned for its climbing spots suitable for all skill levels. There will also be river paddling down the rapids of Red River Gorge.

Parks is still working on the full itinerary for the trip, and he hopes he can fit horseback riding somewhere into the schedule.

The all-inclusive trip to Red River Gorge will cost students $450 and nonstudents $600. This includes any necessary gear needed, as well as the basic food cost over the course of the trip.

Parks said the trip is meant to be cheaper than if the students attempted to do it on their own.

The other trips Parks has planned for this semester are typically between one or two days and feature an adventure closer to campus, such as Sica Hollow State Park in northeast South Dakota, near Sisseton. These trips offer a wide variety of activities at different locations, all while helping students connect with each other.

Carol Gibbon, a fitness graduate assistant, went on a trip last year.

“The thrill and beauty was outstanding,” she said. “The trip helped me meet other students and get to know them in a deeper way than on-campus interactions.”

While the trips seem to be at the forefront of the Outdoor Program, there are many other services it has to offer in order to get students outdoors.

The program includes many “create your own adventure” trips, in which students plan their own activities, get advice from outdoor experts and receive access to everything they need through the Outdoor Program gear rentals.

They also offer free clinics that help students learn new skills that they might need on their own adventures such as bike maintenance and canoeing.

Parks noted that when the expansion of the Wellness Center is complete, the Outdoor Program will be moved into a bigger space where it can house all of its camping and decoy rentals. It will be set up in a way that is ideal for the program.

The Outdoor Program’s goal is to get students outdoors, and Parks wants students to have the chance to experience it. As the program continues to grow, Parks looks forward to affording every student an opportunity to explore the great outdoors.

“The outdoors is for everyone,” Parks said. “It’s about chasing that feeling.”

All information regarding the Outdoor Program can be accessed on South Dakota State’s website or at the Wellness Center.