Western Carolina University is the premiere outdoor adventure college in the region, according to a Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine online readers’ poll.
The monthly magazine for outdoor sports, health and adventure travel in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic announced the results in a recent article. It is the third straight year for WCU to gain the recognition.
“It’s not surprising that WCU has taken the Top Adventure College Contest honors for the third year in a row,” said Travis Hall, author of the feature article. “Amidst a backdrop of Appalachian peaks, crystal clear trout streams and rivers, and seemingly endless singletrack, WCU has cultivated an outdoor culture that only gets richer with each passing school year.”
On campus and off, numerous outdoor opportunities await students, faculty and staff. From a multi-use trail system behind the Health and Human Sciences Building on its West Campus to the neighboring Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, as well as scenic lakes and waterways like the nearby Tuckaseigee River, there is quick and easy access to some of the best landscapes in the Southern Appalachians.
“WCU truly embraces its rural mountain environment and ability to access natural resources by emphasizing outdoor recreation as a part of our university culture,” said Shauna Sleight, director of Campus Recreation and Wellness. “The university has facilities, programs, services and academic programs focused in the outdoor environment. When an opportunity presents itself to vote for WCU as the best outdoor adventure school, our university community is proud to do so for the place we call home.”
The university’s Base Camp Cullowhee, the outdoor programming unit at WCU, offers dozens of outdoor recreation trips to students annually, provides experiential education services and has an equipment rental service.
“Base Camp Cullowhee is seen as one of the premier outdoor programs in the University of North Carolina system,” said Jeremiah Haas, WCU assistant director of outdoor programs. “With student development being at the core of our foundation, we believe this is a home and community for developing outdoor adventure athletes, outdoor instructors and guides, and even those students just wanting to have a new adventure during their college experience. We have students that come to WCU because they have heard about the quality of the Base Camp Cullowhee program and the depth of programming opportunities, which students simply cannot pass up.”
One aspect of the Base Camp Cullowhee program that keeps things fresh and innovative are the various collaborations and partnerships that WCU students and staff seek. “Our connection with the Parks and Recreation Management Program is a natural fit and one that offers real-world experience for our trip leaders and also is an avenue for which students can gain valuable field experience and gain nationally recognized certifications,” Haas said. “A program that will launch in the fall is the outdoor guide development program, which is an avenue by which students, faculty and staff can gain foundational training in risk management, history and philosophy of outdoor education, and leadership and group dynamics. Students then get a chance to engage in a field-based apprenticeship where the student has control over their progression of training.”
Among the academic programs offered by WCU that are of interest to students pursuing careers in the outdoors are parks and recreation management, forest resources, hospitality and tourism and natural resource conservation and management, along with geology and environmental science.
“Having so many opportunities to recreate outside within close proximity to WCU is what we should call ‘at home recreation,’” said Debby Singleton, a parks and recreation management program instructor upon hearing the magazine’s poll results. Singleton had just spent a day on nearby Cedar Cliff Lake with students in a stand-up paddleboard class. “When recreation opportunities are this close, it becomes a daily part of life for students and the community. These types of connections build a community of like-minded individuals. Recreating together builds bonds, and these bonds extend past their time at WCU. Just ask some of our parks and recreation management alums who are still meeting up on a regular basis to paddle, snowboard, hike or bike together.”
The contest began with 32 schools in the running for the title. Following a “March Madness” theme, WCU progressed to the magazine’s online finals and faced Emory and Henry College of Emory, Virginia. Voting for the top spot began at 1 p.m. Monday, April 18, and concluded 9 a.m. Monday, April 25.