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Saturday, February 27, 2021

Western’s Outdoor Center providing what they can for students

During the summer, Crandall said he worked on transitioning the Outdoor Center’s Western Outdoor Orientation Trips to an online format.

Western’s AS Outdoor Center remains closed for fall quarter. // Photo by Andrea Rodriguez

By Justin Hecht

Western’s AS Outdoor Center will not be physically open during fall quarter due to COVID-19.

Kailey Hickey, the Outdoor Center equipment & bike shop coordinator, said she is trying to be hopeful that the Outdoor Center can get approval to be open in a limited capacity for rentals this quarter. It doesn’t seem likely that will happen, Hickey said.

The Outdoor Center doesn’t want to add to the spread of COVID-19, Hickey said.

“We just want to make sure we’re keeping students safe.”

In the spring, the Outdoor Center transitioned its services to E-outdoors, where staff posted videos of themselves on Facebook and Instagram discussing outdoor recreation activities and providing survival advice and skills, said Ben Crandall, the Outdoor Center excursions co-coordinator.

During the summer, Crandall said he worked on transitioning the Outdoor Center’s Western Outdoor Orientation Trips to an online format.

Normally, there are up to 10 weeklong backpacking or sea kayaking trips that run through the beginning of August up until the start of fall quarter, Crandall said. 

As an online program, students would meet virtually four times in a small group and design their own in-person trip that will be happening during the fall, Crandall said.

These trips are for on-campus students, free and limited to five people per group to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, Crandall said.

When Whatcom County Phase 3 arrives, the plan is for the Outdoor Center to be open in-person in a limited capacity, Hickey said.

Part of the plan is for there to be weekend rentals to try to keep things small and safe, Hickey said.

“We’d be open on a Friday, you’d rent over the weekend and everyone would return their gear on Monday,” Crandall said.

When rented equipment is returned, it will be kept in an outdoor cage to be quarantined after it is thoroughly cleaned to eliminate any possibility of spreading the virus, Hickey said.

Porous equipment will be machine-washed, Hickey said. 

Crandall said he is excited to get back and work physically inside the Outdoor Center and converse in-person with people.

Crandall, a fourth-year student, has been working at the Outdoor Center since his first year at Western — starting out as a trip leader

“I definitely miss being on campus and having students just walk in the front door and say, ‘Hey! I have a question.’ Or ‘Hey! I want to do something,’” Crandall said. “In a virtual format, that is much more challenging.” 

Drew Baty, a second-year student, has rented mountain bikes from the Outdoor Center twice and has gone in to get help adjusting gears on her own bike. 

Baty said she and a friend were hoping to rent some gear from the Outdoor Center in early October, but were disappointed to see they wouldn’t be able to.

Hopefully, for herself and for others, the Outdoor Center will be open soon so people can get the gear they need, Baty said.

“It’s much easier to go through them than to go to a bike shop, and they’re less expensive, too,” Baty said. 

Crandall said he hopes the trips that are now being offered to students for free is a change that will last. 

Students are paying fees for services they currently can’t access and tuition that hasn’t been reduced, and Outdoor Center staff want to acknowledge this. They want to continue to provide opportunities for students that won’t put an extra burden on their bank accounts, Crandall said.

If there are clubs or organizations on campus with ideas to go on trips together, Crandall encourages them to reach out to the Outdoor Center. Staff can help put together trips for them for free.

Not working at the Outdoor Center in person has given staff time to take a step back and look at their work. They can now evaluate where certain students have potentially been underserved or felt excluded, get back to the root goals of the Outdoor center and engage with all Western communities, Crandall said.

Crandall said he is excited to lay the groundwork now for building relationships with groups. He said his goal is for these relationships to last long after he is a student.

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