Outdoor Recreation Program offers experiences for beginners


Courtesy Outdoor Recreation Program

Students take a break from surfing in California over spring break. 

Meghan Custis

The Outdoor Recreation Program (ORP) at Iowa State takes the phrase “choose your adventure” to a whole new level. The program lets students explore the great outdoors in many capacities.

There are five components to the outdoor recreation program: trips, climbing walls, bike maintenance, equipment rentals and workshops. The program gives students the opportunity to gain knowledge and rent equipment — all with the intent of getting people outside to enjoy what nature has to offer.

Students can expect outdoor recreation to be fairly priced. Climbing walls are free with an Iowa State gym membership included with your enrollment at Iowa State. Bike maintenance is a routine safety check on bikes to make sure they are good for students to ride. Equipment rentals include items such as tents, bikes, camping cooking gear, sleeping bags and other similar items. Renting camping equipment costs students a small fraction of the cost purchasing equipment would.

ORP offers various trips for students to participate in. These range from day trips to Ada Hayden park in Ames to five day trips paddling down a river in Utah. Students of all skill sets and experiences are welcome to join the fun. Trips are entirely student-led by the staff of the ORP office.

The price of registration includes any expenses incurred on the trip such as transportation, food, permits and gear. Trip leaders create an itinerary, planning all activities and logistics of the trip.  

“The only thing you need to bring is your clothes,” said Jerry Rupert, program coordinator for recreation services. “That’s it. Everything else is covered.”

Rupert plays a large role in planning trips and training the staff leading the trips, workshops and assisting with the rock wall or bike maintenance. 

Rupert knows the stresses of college and emphasizes the importance of incorporating fun into an otherwise stressful schedule. He said he believes ORP trips allow students to take a break and relax.

“This gives students an opportunity to get away from all of that and get rejuvenated,” Rupert said.

The trips lead to deep, lasting friendships and an opportunity to recharge for both staff and participants.

Two student leaders, Skye Erickson, senior in materials engineering, and Sidney Brenkus, senior in animal ecology, are the perfect example of the relationships made through ORP. The pair calls themselves the “power team,” and they know first-hand the experiences students have on trips.

Erikson and Brenkus are leading an upcoming canoeing day-trip on the Des Moines River. The day reminds the two of a spring break trip they led to Labyrinth Canyon, Utah in 2019.

The trip was five days long and consisted of floating and paddling down the canyon, which you can’t get to by road. 

“You really bond when you’re in the middle of nowhere,” Brenkus said.

Staff are trained extensively and prepared for any unknown factors that could occur in their program, which is vital for the safety of the trips. Participants can be certain their staff leaders are prepared to act appropriately in any situations they may face.

Erickson and Brenkus were required to make a spur of the moment decision in Utah when impending rain could leave them stuck in the canyon on day five of their trip. Shortly before starting the trek into the water, the leaders communicated with the participants that they would be on the water for four days and have various options of other activities in the area for the fifth day.

“We’re there for safety and logistics and we let the participants decide what they want to do within those parameters,” Erickson said. 

Participants, similar to staff, do not need prior knowledge or skills to attend trips. Every trip is for beginners unless otherwise advertised. Students are encouraged to exercise before extended trips to have the best experience, Rupert said, but it is not a requirement.

On-site training is common on most trips. Erickson explained the informal teaching that happens during most trips. Even if participants have camped before, they might not be familiar with the gear used on that trip.

“If you’ve never gone camping before it’s definitely a good way to learn because we’re there the entire time,” Brenkus said.

Brenkus chose Iowa State while looking into ORP. As a resident of Houston, she knew she wanted the opportunity to take trips and get outside while attending college.

“I wanted something where I could learn to get outside,” Brenkus said. “Iowa State has one of the biggest outdoor rec services in [the] nation.”

When she applied to be a student staff member, she had no outdoor skills. ORP gave Brenkus the skills to execute the outdoor hobbies she was longing to partake in.

The opportunities for experience are endless with outdoor recreation. The chance to learn, play and sweat are right at the fingertips of Iowa State students. Rupert knows that outdoor recreation offers these in a way nothing else can.

“You’re going to get to do things and go places that you never thought in a million years you would get to do,” Rupert said. “And chances are, you would’ve never done them if you didn’t do it through outdoor rec.”