Outdoor Program aims to break stigma surrounding outdoor recreation

Josh Schmidt, a senior at Westminster College, climbs in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Schmidt is a trip leader for Westminster College’s Outdoor Program, which he said looks to provide students the opportunity to share their passion for the outdoors with students who feel the same way and who have never experienced the wilderness. Photo by Tyler Price.

Josh Schmidt, a senior at Westminster College, climbs in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Schmidt is a trip leader for Westminster College’s Outdoor Program, which he said looks to provide students the opportunity to share their passion for the outdoors with students who feel the same way and who have never experienced the wilderness. Photo by Tyler Price.

Outdoor sports and recreation are often known for being expensive—a stigma Westminster College's Outdoor Program is working to break. 

The Outdoor Program offers activities ranging from climbing in Moab to backpacking through the Uinta mountains. The trips are typically all-inclusive and affordable for college students, according to those involved with the program. 

“It has been a goal of many of the outdoor groups in the United States to make the outdoors more accessible to groups that may or may not have had those privileges,” said Tyler Price, a senior at Westminster College studying environmental science and outdoor education and leadership. 

Price said Westminster's program is no different. 

“What is really cool about the outdoor program is that it is [nonprofit],” Price said. “The Outdoor Program is based around providing affordable trips for people. The trip fees go directly towards gas and food. All of the gear at the Outdoor Program is available to use for all of the participants on the trips.” 

Costs associated with a trip can create barriers to entry, according to Tiana White, the assistant director of outdoor programs at Westminster. To keep costs low, trip fees are all-inclusive and primarily cover the gas and food. 

In 2015, the Outdoor Program received a Promise South Salt Lake Program grant, which created a partnership between the Outdoor Program and the South Salt Lake Community centers. 

“With the Promise South Salt Lake Program, we were able to get a grant to purchase equipment in order to loan out,” Price said. “A lot of the equipment and clothing was purchased from the D.I (a local thrift store chain in Salt Lake City).” 

This gear is always functional and safe, Price said, and recycling and repurposing old clothes has also helped the Outdoor Program become more environmentally friendly. 

Efforts to reduce barriers to involvement in outdoor recreation are important, White said, because there can sometimes be a divide between those who participate in such activities and those who don't. 

"Just going camping can feel inaccessible to a lot of people," White said. "Sometimes people assume they need to have a certain level of experience to go on a trip." 

To overcome this, Price said the Outdoor Program takes groups with differing backgrounds and experience—including minority populations. 

“When we take a trip, it’s not us taking them or taking people to the great outdoors and showing people how amazing it is,” Price said. “It is trying to find a way to bridge the gap between those who can go to the outdoors and recreate and people who don’t have the access or the interest in going outdoors and recreating.” 

For individuals from developing nations, the concept of going camping could seem unnecessary, Price said. 

"A lot of immigrants and refugees don’t necessarily think of Utah as being desirable," said Leah Weisgal, an outdoor trip leader and a senior at Westminster studying public health. "It is neat to come in with the perspective of, 'Hey, I'm from New York City and I think Utah is the coolest place ever for these reasons. Let's show you these mountains.'" 

Though Weisgal is a trip leader, she said she isn't always teaching and noted that individuals who have historically faced barriers to outdoor recreation have a lot to offer. 

"A lot of those kids have way more outdoor experience than any of us will ever have." Weisgal said — first-hand experience she said comes from living in countries where it is common to live outside. 

Overall, participants in Westminster's Outdoor Program said they think the program does a good job at breaking barriers and uniting the community. 

“It’s not a program to take [individuals into the outdoors],” Price said. “It’s a program to bridge gaps in the community.”