New “Outdoor Programs” offers off-campus adventures

A new program offered by the South Dakota State Wellness Center allows students to get off campus without breaking the bank. 

Outdoor Programs offers gear rentals and trips that take students on professionally-planned expeditions in the surrounding areas. Some of the rental gear include kayaks, canoes, hunting decoys, tents and Nordic skis.

There is hiking, camping, and backpacking for trips. A couple trips that students got to go on were the Badlands and Sica Hollow.  

Justin Parks, the Outdoor Programs Coordinator, said the design of the program began with the climbing wall in the Wellness Center as the main focus. The goal of adding on to this program is to get more students outside and active in nature while learning leadership roles.

Shari Landmark, assistant director of the Wellness Center, said students can take part in different outdoor experiences with the program less than an hour away from campus.

Students can reserve gear for rentals or go to the Outdoor Programs desk across from the Wellness Center welcome desk. The desk is open from 3-6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 12-3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The desk accepts Hobo Dough, cash and credit cards as payment.

The gear that is available to rent was purchased from a previous program called Outback Jacks, which was located in the lower level of The Union until a few years ago, according to Landmark.

Prices for the trips depend on the distance and how long the trip will be. Gear rental prices range from $1 to $10 a day, depending on the item. 

“The visibility (in the basement) was a problem, so what we’re trying to do is make sure people find out about it because this is a wonderful opportunity,” Parks said. “This is a beautiful state we live in, so why not get out on a long weekend or just enjoy a hike with your friends?”

According to Parks, the prices are made affordable for students and are much lower rates than would be found at an outfitter. Students can rent the gear in 24-hour time increments and are allowed to take the gear anywhere. The only rule Outdoor Programs has is that it isn’t returned dirty.

The program began at the beginning of the semester, and the adventure trips program have generated students interest. According to Parks, the first camp and climb trip not only sold out, but also had a waiting list.

Eight students went on the overnight trip to Palisades State Park Sept. 4. McKinley Lain, freshman electrical engineering and ecology and environmental science double-major said the trip has been his best experience so far at SDSU. 

“There is no better way to learn about and interact with the natural wonders around us while spending time with great people who will be friends long after the trip is over,” Lain said.

Once the Phase II Expansion of the Wellness Center is completed, there will be more storage space to house additional equipment, Landmark said. Having more equipment will allow more students to go on these trips.

Future trips offered include backpacking in the Badlands Oct. 8-10 and hiking Newton Hills on Oct. 23. There will also be various clinics offered that teach bike maintenance and canoeing lessons. Next semester Parks hopes to plan some skiing trips as well as a spring break trip.

Parks is planning a Jackrabbit Outdoor Leadership Training course (JOLT), where students partake in extracurricular leadership training, then help design and lead their own trip. JOLT will be offered this spring.

Another prospective feature is a custom trips program that will allow students to work with Parks to design a trip to a destination of their choice. Outdoor Programs would provide the transportation, gear, food and professionals to lead the trip, which are all currently included on the pre-planned trips being offered.