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ODU's Outdoor Adventure Program Grows With New Home

In an out-of-the-way corner of Old Dominion University's new Student Recreation Center, opening the door is like being transported onto the set of an outdoor adventure television show.

Students wearing cargo shorts, polymer-fiber shirts and athletic sandals move between neat racks of mountain bikes, kayaks and canoes. Conversations about weekend hikes and sunset paddles fill the air.

Some students just sit and enjoy the nature-themed vibe, an unusual occurrence at an urban campus like ODU's.

"We have people who just come here to hang out and do their homework, because they like being here so much," said Bridget Nemeth, the coordinator of ODU's Outdoor Adventure Program.

Nemeth said the program got a super-sized boost when the new recreation center opened earlier this year. For one thing, rock climbing is one of the most popular activities among the outdoor adventure enthusiasts, and an impressive rock wall dominates the entry foyer of the center.

The new facility also allowed ODU to purchase a host of new equipment for outdoor-inclined students to use, from mountain bikes, to one- and two-person kayaks, to camping gear.

But Nemeth stresses that the outdoor adventure activities aren't just for students who have been camping for years. Nemeth herself didn't come from an outdoor-oriented family. Her first time sleeping outside happened when she joined the outdoor adventure club at the university where she received her undergraduate degree.

"That's what we want to stress. We're not just for super outdoor people," Nemeth said. "As an urban school, there are a lot of students who've never done any of these outdoor activities, because they haven't had the chance. We're trying to encourage as many people as we can to come out and give it a try."

Students are doing just that, it seems. With new digs in the Student Recreation Center serving as a home base, the Outdoor Adventure Program is planning more than twice as many expeditions this semester as a year ago, including camping trips, day hikes and paddling in the open water.

Throughout the fall, the Outdoor Adventure Program is encouraging participation in its paddling and kayaking events, starting with Paddle-palooza on October 1. Paddle-palooza is a program, starting at 4 p.m. at Whitehurst Beach, inviting experts and first-timers to try out the watercraft. It's free.

"It's a great chance to try out canoeing or kayaking, even if you've never done it before," Nemeth said.

While in some ways it's difficult to promote outdoor activities like camping and sea kayaking to a student body that may never have experienced such things, Nemeth said in other ways it presents ODU's Outdoor Adventure Program with a real opportunity.

"In places like Colorado, everyone's already been exposed to these types of things, and there are many other groups doing them. Here, in downtown Norfolk, we're basically it," she said.

"That gives us a chance to introduce these programs to a whole new group of people."

Nemeth added that the healthy lifestyle component of outdoor activities can help foster an entire community of active, environmentally aware young people.

"That's where the benefits of outdoor activity really pay off - for all of us."

This article was posted on: September 25, 2009

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