Outdoor Pursuits (OP) has been aiming to offer a valuable opportunity for students to experience the natural beauty of the greater Winston-Salem area for many years. Now, thanks to the indelible mark that COVID-19 made on Wake Forest students, OP’s mission is more important than ever.
The program is inclusive of students of various skill and experience levels and has successfully brought the student body closer together while also providing opportunities for student employment. Currently, Outdoor Pursuits is headed by program administrators Peter Berry and Meghan Belanger and has a total roster of 28 employees.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, OP has been largely limited to hosting on-campus events this academic year. In the fall semester, all OP events were campus-based — either held on campus or at locations within reasonable hiking or biking distance. No trips that required vehicles were allowed. Only as recently as four weeks ago was OP able to start hosting off-campus trips again.
The university felt confident in this decision, along with their transition back to Yellow operating status, due to reduced COVID-19 cases and increasing vaccine availability both on and off-campus. These trips have included slacklining, hikes, yoga sessions, paddle boarding, and a campfire night. Popular destinations include Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain State Parks. All trips have kept COVID-19 safety in mind by limiting the number of students able to attend and regulating mask use and social distancing, both within and outside of vehicles.
Freshman Jayne Flynn attended a yoga retreat at Pilot Mountain on April 1. The trip was led by sophomore Ahrianna Keefe as well as two other OP trip leaders. Senior Meredith Vaughn led the yoga session.
“We took two big OP cars up to Pilot Mountain — there [were] about 10 or 12 [of us] and we had to space out [due to] COVID,” Flynn said. “We drove to the top and set up our mats for yoga on the dirt. It was really cold and windy — about 40 degrees — and we only saw the sunset for the last 10 minutes. Meredith did a really good job, and overall, it was a really fun trip.”
OP offered students like Keefe and Vaughn valuable work experience, building their athletic, leadership and interpersonal skillsets. OP also helped Vaughn work towards her yoga certification.
Freshman Ted Bossong had a similar experience on a hike to Pilot Mountain that he described as a “casual, short day trip, but still a lot of fun.” He said the OP leaders demonstrated flexibility and preparedness in the midst of stormy weather conditions, and although the trip was cut short, the students in attendance had positive experiences.
OP trips will continue through the remainder of the academic year, with students able to look forward to warmer weather and improved hiking conditions. Upcoming trips include a First-Year Wilderness Weekend, a mountain biking trip and a lake day. Administrators Berry and Belanger are optimistic for a return to normalcy and a more extensive roster of trips in the fall.