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SMC offers outdoor education

Lisa Gallagher | Monday, September 5, 2005

A hike to Indiana Dunes State Park last Sunday kicked off a fresh series of outdoor-intensive activities for the women of Saint Mary’s.

“The hike was beautiful,” sophomore Loretta Brown said. “It took us through some ecosystems that many people never see.”

The hike was the first of several new weekend outings scheduled throughout the fall to enable students to enjoy a variety of physical activities. Instructor John Gallagher collaborated with athletic director Lynn Kachmarik last year to gauge student interest and plan outdoor courses for the 2005-06 school year.

Gallagher, who has extensive wilderness training, is beginning his second year at the College. Though schools in the area – including Saint Mary’s – promote intramural sports with a high success rate, Gallagher said he was surprised to find that none available at the College offered any kind of outdoor recreation.

Kachmarik said outdoor adventures are a terrific way for women to exercise and enjoy themselves.

“What a great way to show our women, ‘Look, there [are] a lot of things you can do outside,'” she said. “This is such a beautiful area with so many opportunities to do some different things.”

Though these new opportunities are collectively listed in the Saint Mary’s course book as ‘Introduction to Outdoor Sports,’ they are actually individual activities and are not offered for credit, Gallagher said. Gallagher and Kachmarik are continuing to measure student interest in each activity.

Gallagher said that while initially he was concerned that word of the hike would not spread quickly enough to garner participation from already busy students, he was enthused by student response to Sunday’s hike.

“I thought it was pretty good considering it was the first weekend of school,” he said. “I hope the results will be [as positive for] the rest of the trips, too,”

Other activities scheduled through early December include an overnight cycling and camping trip on the Illinois and Michigan Canal State Trail Sept. 10-11, a canoeing and kayaking trip down the River Country Heritage Water Trail Sept. 18, indoor climbing at Climb Kalamazoo in Michigan Nov. 6 and downhill skiing at Swiss Valley Ski Area, also in Michigan, on Dec. 4.

Kachmarik and Gallagher said they believe students will enjoy these trips and hope for high levels of participation from the campus.

“Fifteen women [signed up for] the hike Sunday, and so we could have 15 very different women [who] want to go on the canoeing trip and kayaking trip,” Kachmarik said.

Freshman Taryn Pabst, who attended the hike with some of her neighbors and roommate from McCandless Hall, said she enjoyed the trip and is likely to participate in more outdoor courses this year.

“The hike overall was a lot of fun and I thought everyone came well-prepared,” Pabst said. “I would definitely take advantage of other trips that may be offered.”

Though the athletic department’s main priority is catering to the women of Saint Mary’s, Kachmarik is open to the idea of male participants if the activity is not overnight.

“We want to try to accommodate everyone,” she said.

Safety is also an issue. Students are asked to fill out a liability release before they are permitted to attend the outing.

“The ultimate goal of these outings are to provide students with new skills and self-confidence to experience the outdoors safely and responsibility, and with curiosity to further educate themselves about each activity,” Gallagher wrote in his course description.

Kachmarik also stressed the opportunities these activities provide for students.

“My feeling is … it’s a great option for those students [in that] it’s not all about partying,” she said. “This is a perfect alternative to a different social life than what has typically been offered at Saint Mary’s on a Saturday night.”