Red rocks ascend from the desert soil towards a cloudless blue sky. Two yellow rafts with “Westminster” stamped on the side float along the Colorado River in Moab, Utah.
After paddling through 10 miles of whitewater rapids, the boats finally pull off to a small, scenic beach – accessible only by watercraft. The trip leaders dock the boats along the river bank and begin passing out gear to students.
Within minutes, the kitchen is put up, tents are pitched and students have branched off to enjoy the unique outdoor space. Some sprawl out on the soft sand while others swim in the river.
Isabelle Allen and Lilli Eckberg, both in their third year of leading trips for Westminster University’s Outdoor Program, completed the first student-led rafting trip.
The Outdoor Program is a community focused space that aims to connect students to the outdoors and to create leadership opportunities for students, according to AJ Verkouw, the director of the OP.
“The trips create incredibly authentic leadership opportunities for student trip leaders,” Verkouw said in an email.
Allen, a senior environmental science major who’s been a commercial rafting guide for four years, said she took advantage of the leadership opportunities offered by the OP when she pitched the idea of running a student-led river rafting trip.
“I knew that we had boats and we weren’t running trips,” Allen said. “So [Verkouw] had asked me if there were any trips I was interested in running, and so I was like, ‘Let’s do a rafting one.’”
Student trip leaders are responsible for planning, preparing and executing the trip, which is made possible through a combination of training with full-time staff and peer mentorship, according to Verkouw.
“The peer mentorship aspect is vital in passing down the knowledge required to run these trips,” Verkouw said in an email. “Learning from each other is such a special and powerful way for student leaders to grow and develop in their skill sets.”
Allen said she agrees peer mentorship is vital to the success of future Outdoor Program trips. Allen said she hopes that first-year trip leaders, Kiva Call-Feit and Ashlyn Gnoyski, who accompanied her on the trip, will continue to lead the Moab rafting trip in future semesters.
“I was so thrilled that Kiva and Ashlyn were there,” Allen said. “Hopefully, they take that trip over and lead it next year. It’s kind of like the legacy that I get to leave behind at the [Outdoor Program].”
Allen said part of the goal of the trip is to allow participants to learn new skills through unique and exciting experiences.
“We hope that is how we help people learn,” Allen said. “They’re coming out on these trips with us and they’re having a great time. And through having a great time doing this new activity, they’re learning.”
Allen said she hopes by sharing her love of rivers with other students they will have fun trying new activities and make connections with students they may not have otherwise.
“I just want it to feel like a group of friends who are going on the river,” Allen said.
Some students who participated in the Moab river rafting trip said it opened a door for them to meet people they never would have met on campus.
Clara Miramontes, a senior elementary education major, attended the Moab river rafting trip and said her favorite part was meeting new people.
“Once you get really into what you’re studying and into that program it’s hard to meet other people outside of that,” said Miramontes. “Some of the people started [school] when I started and it was my first time meeting them.”
Miramontes said the conditions of the trip made it easy for the group to get to know each other in a meaningful way.
“I got to know people on a much deeper level than I would ever get to meeting people on campus,” Miramontes said.
While Miramontes is happy she attended the trip, she admitted she was hesitant to go on the trip because she had no prior experience with camping or rafting.
“That was the first time I’ve ever done anything like that,” Miramontes said. “It was really fun to learn how you function completely disconnected.”
Other participants said they were more accustomed to trips run by the Outdoor Program. For Drew Menifee, a first-year outdoor education and leadership major, the rafting trip was his third trip with the OP.
Menifee said the rafting trip is different from other trips offered by the Outdoor Program, such as backpacking or climbing trips, because the rafts offer more space to bring gear and food.
Menifee said the extra gear allows for better food options, but also makes the trip more appealing to participants who may not be as familiar with outdoor recreation.
“It’s less strenuous,” Menifee said. “It makes it more inclusive, more interesting, to just a random person that might go to this school, rather than an outdoor enthusiast.
Menifee said that the trip has a “great balance,” because it’s “made so that outdoor enthusiasts can have a really great time.”
Isabelle Allen, a senior environmental science major and trip leader, said she was happy with the overall outcome of the trip.
“More than anything, I’m really happy this trip was as successful as it was,” Allen said. “We don’t often have trips [that] get completely full. It made me happy to see that this trip [was] full and that people were excited about it.”
Allen said that she hopes that the tradition of the rafting trip, “carries on through coming semesters and into future years.”