Allegheny gets outside: Outing Club continues 90-year legacy

Allegheny Outing Club
Allegheny Outing Club participants, led here by Vicky Bajek, ‘21, walk through the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio, on Oct. 20, 2018.

Crunched leaves rest along a trail of bootprints as steady breathing becomes visible in the cool, fall air. Birds high in the trees sing to the hikers, who have Allegheny Outing Club emblems printed on their shirts.

AOC formed 90 years ago in 1928 from the Tingley Biology Club and a women’s Hiking Club, and AOC began as a women’s club, according to the proceedings of the 2001 International Conference on Outdoor Recreation and Education.

The proceedings, which provide some history on outdoor clubs, indicate that by 1935, the Allegheny club served both women and men, and students began trekking through Bousson Woods, purchased by the college that year.

Bousson is situated along Oil Creek Road east of Meadville and has since been named Bousson Environmental Research Reserve as it serves the college as a site for faculty and students to explore soils, woodland and aquatic habitats, stream ecology and forestry.

Before AOC existed, outing clubs emerged from New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College in 1909 when Dartmouth student Fred Harris founded a club that offered skiing, snowshoeing and other winter recreation, according to the Dartmouth outdoor programming website.

Following Dartmouth’s example, several other colleges created outing clubs of their own, and by 1932, the Intercollegiate Outing Club Association was formed, of which AOC is now a member.

Today, Allegheny students interested in participating in AOC outings may experience something similar to the following scenario: Monday night and your watch reads 8:56 p.m. You have four minutes to log onto your computer to make it on the list.

Sunday evenings during the academic year, AOC trip leaders meet to plan trips for the following weekend. Once plans are made, an email is sent to the Outing Club mailing list describing the upcoming trips. The next day at 9 p.m. sharp, the sign-up emails are sent.

“Some of the more exciting, really demanded trips, those will go in a minute, maybe 40 seconds sometimes,” said Freddy Smith, ’20, AOC trip leader. “The leaders that are on those trips will have their computers up and will have their connected Google documents up, and they’ll be watching live for when people sign up.”

Smith is taking a break from his studies at Allegheny for the 2018-19 school year to be an intern with the National Aviary’s Ambassador Animal Program in Pittsburgh, which provides training in bird care and education.

Because of his interest in birds, Smith said he hopes AOC can plan a future trip focused on bird identification, possibly in collaboration with Ben Haywood, assistant professor of environmental science and sustainability, whose academic interests include a heavy focus on bird ecology.  

Smith has led several day hikes as an AOC trip leader, including to McConnells Mill State Park in Portersville, Pennsylvania, and the Allegheny National Forest.

“When you get a chance to share something in the outdoors that you think is really exciting with somebody who’s never gotten a chance to do it before, and you see that eye-light-up moment, it just gives me goosebumps,” Smith said. “I love it so much.”

Before taking the National Aviary internship, Smith was elected vice president of AOC last spring, and once he decided to take a year off, Lindsay Blum, ’21, stepped into the role.

Blum became involved in AOC after being encouraged by Haley Urben, ’18, to go on a rock climbing trip last year. Blum, who is “not the biggest fan of heights,” said she wanted to push herself and was glad she did.

“It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done,” she said.

One of Blum’s favorite trips she has led with AOC was this semester’s first-year student trip —  kayaking on the Pymatuning Reservoir at Pymatuning State Park.

Blum spent the summer working in Alaska as a sea kayaking guide and learned valuable lessons from her supervisor, a trained kayaking instructor. That experience, Blum said, gave her confidence in her outdoor skills, confidence she brought to the first-year kayaking trip in September, co-lead by AOC President Gabriel Curtisbrown, ’19.

As AOC president, Curtisbrown is responsible for the general management of the club and oversees the trip leaders and executive board, which consists of Blum, Treasurer Ray Marszalek, ’21, Secretary Emma Norton, ’21, and Gear Manager Tom Lubinsky, ’20.

“Through our equipment rental, we allow a lot of kids to take trips and have adventures they otherwise wouldn’t be able to have,” Lubinsky said.

Gear available to rent includes basic camping equipment — tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, backpacks — along with canoes, cross country skis and snowshoes, Lubinsky said.

Rentals are free for Allegheny students, Lubinsky said, and more popular items tend to be canoes and camping equipment, and students who wish to rent gear should contact Lubinsky or an AOC trip leader. In addition to gear inventory, Lubinsky is responsible for maintenance, cleaning and repairs from general “wear and tear,” he said.

Allegheny Outing Club
Allegheny Outing Club leads its annual first-year student trip on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. This year, AOC President Gabriel Curtisbrown, ’19, and Vice President Lindsay Blum, ’21, took first-year students kayaking on Pymatuning Reservoir at Pymatuning State Park.

Smaller repairs and replacement costs are typically covered by AOC’s budget, and larger needs are addressed by approaching Allegheny Student Government and requesting funds from the ASG Surplus Fund, Lubinsky explained.

A participant in trips since his first year at Allegheny and a trip leader since last fall, Lubinsky said AOC brings in new members and leaders each year.

Ivy Ryan participated in trips as a first-year student and has been a trip leader since last semester. Ryan said she has led two trips in her time as an AOC leader so far — a short hike to Erie’s Presque Isle State Park in March and an apple-picking trip to Meadville’s Heagy’s Orchard in October.

An environmental science major and studio art minor, Ryan said she is interested in relationships between science and art and that her senior comprehensive project focuses on “changing complex biological processes into something that’s digestible for the public.”

“Being an outing club leader is kind of on the same level as that in a way, because you’re taking people that may have never experienced hiking, biking, whatever it is, horseback riding, and giving them a little glimpse of what they can experience in the outdoors, in a safe environment,” Ryan said.

Participant experience and skill levels vary, according to Curtisbrown, so the club tries to offer a variety of trips. More popular trips include outings to Pentagon Paintball in Fairview and white water rafting at Ohiopyle State Park. Perhaps less action-packed but equally exciting, Curtisbrown said, are day hikes and camping trips.  

“We try to balance the big popular trips with the more relaxed ones to give people options,” he said.

The cost of trips vary, depending on the activity and location, and some trips are free. A few years ago, after AOC noticed some patterns of students signing up and backing out, the club started requiring a deposit to officially reserve a spot, Smith said.   

“To add a little bit of gravity to it, even on free trips, we started asking for a $5 deposit to put down during their pre-trip meeting that would then get returned to them when they show up to go on the trip that morning,” he said.

AOC’s 90-year legacy continues through its current leaders, who share a love and appreciation for the outdoors. But the club’s mission extends beyond that love and appreciation, according to Curtisbrown.

“It provides students an opportunity to get off campus for the weekend, which is tremendously helpful, not only for their actual enjoyment, but it’s also good for mental health,” Curtisbrown said. “It’s more than just, yeah we’re teaching people to make campfires, and yeah we’re going canoeing down French Creek. It’s part of an effort to make this school less stressful and increase retention.”