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Outdoor recreation program at UW-River Falls readies for new space, adventures

Falcon News Service

November 2, 2016

Falcon Outdoor Adventures (FOA), part of Campus Recreation, is one UW-River Falls program getting new and improved space in the Falcon Center next spring.

Travis Roy, outdoor recreation coordinator, said FOA will be making the move from a small office in Knowles Center to a larger, more open space in the south side of the Falcon Center over J-Term. The program has been housed in Knowles since sometime around 2011, Roy said.

A climber from UWRF ascends an icy cliff face during the Falcon Outdoor Adventures annual ice climbing trip to Sandstone, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Falcon Outdoor Adventures)
A climber from UWRF ascends an icy cliff face during the Falcon Outdoor Adventures annual ice climbing trip to Sandstone, Minnesota. (Photo courtesy of Falcon Outdoor Adventures)

According to Roy, a student named Lance Ross started an outdoor recreation program in the late 1990s. It was run out of the basement of May Hall, supplying students primarily with camping equipment. He also led some trips. When Ross left, the program fizzled out, but the void was filled around 2010 when students started wanting the program on campus again. FOA has been a key component of the recreation program at UWRF ever since, and growing more each year.

Roy attended UW-Eau Claire, and worked in the outdoor program there as an undergraduate. He graduated and worked at the Mayo Clinic for a while, but always missed being outdoors, he said.

“I realized that I really missed taking those trips, being outdoors,” Roy said. “I always just kinda light up when I’m out there, and didn’t get that in my last field.”

Roy is the first to hold the outdoor recreation coordinator position at UWRF, and started working during the 2015-2016 academic year. Though he came into the project partway through construction, Roy said he’s been able to have a lot of input on what the FOA corner of the Falcon Center will look like. An avid climber himself, Roy said he is super excited about the new rock climbing wall.

“Climbing is definitely growing,” Roy said. “One thing that proves that is that it’s just been approved as an Olympic sport. So, my goal is to have this space be state-of-the-art, great gear and education. I want our climbers to be safe and to learn standards.”

His knowledge of rock climbing has helped him work with architects to develop a state-of-the-art climbing wall. It will feature climbing paths for a variety of skill levels, as well as a bouldering wall. The bouldering wall was previously open on the top, but Roy thought it could be better utilized with a flat surface that would overlook the ground. A small door in the side of the wall leads to a ladder, taking a person to the top where they can clip into a line and lecture at climbers from above.

“The one thing I really wanted to emphasize was making this space instructional,” Roy said.

Another aspect of FOA is the rental center, where UWRF students can get equipment for everything from a Boundary Waters Canoe Area trip to a backyard barbeque for free, thanks to the fee they pay that goes to Campus Recreation. Tents, camp stoves, snow shoes, bicycles, yard games, ice fishing gear and many other items can be checked out for one week, and a small charge applies for longer amounts of time. The shop is also open to faculty and community members, who pay a small fee for the equipment.

A new space for the rental center is attached to the climbing area in the Falcon Center. Counters, cabinets and shelving have been built for gear storage. A new bike tuning area is next to a loading dock, so people can easily load up all their gear before heading out on a trip. The space is much bigger than the current space in Knowles, and Roy said much of J-Term will be spent moving everything from that office to the new one.

The biggest emphasis of FOA is the many trips the program leads throughout the year. The trips are led by the student employees, and Roy goes on most of them as well. Trips are advertised all around campus, and much time is spent before the trip preparing with students who sign up to go.

“We definitely want students to feel very prepared before we go on one of these big trips,” Roy said. “Risk management is a big part of my job. We use a system that gets students prepared for the social aspect of a trip, as well as teaching safety, the skills they’ll need we go over before the trip even starts. And we talk about the skills they’ll need, and we’ll train them if there’s the need to.”

Trips are planned both semesters. During the winter, Roy said one he’s always excited for is ice climbing near Sandstone, Minnesota.

“The ice climbing trip is a blast,” Roy said. “We stay at the Audubon Center (of the North Woods) in this little wood stove-heated cozy cabin, and it’s just a blast. Last year students from UW-Eau Claire and Stout came, too, and it was awesome, so we’re gonna try and do that again.”

Though it sounds like a trip for experienced climbers, Roy said people of all levels are welcome.

“It looks crazy and super intense, but we do all the crazy stuff for you. We set you up with the anchors, we belay you, and all you have to do is just show up, get your axe and go nuts.”

Besides ice climbing, Roy said FOA will likely lead a snowshoe backpacking trip. Due to moving into the Falcon Center, however, other trips will likely not be taken until spring. Clinics and seminars, such as belay certification and outdoor cooking classes, will go on as planned.

Despite all that is offered by FOA, Roy said the program is underutilized.

“FOA is the coolest thing on campus. I’ll go on record,” Roy said. “Our students live in the St. Croix Valley region, and there are so many outdoor experiences we can offer — Willow River, Afton Alps, the Brule River, the Kinni — so many things going on that students don’t quite know how to access a lot of the time. That’s what we’re here for.

“If you want to go on a trip, we’ll run through that with you,” he added. “We’ll get you into the woods, into the river, onto a cliff, we’ll help you achieve that. If you want to do it on your own, we can gear you up, offer advice and send you on your way. And so much of it is free.”

Natasha Horsfall, a sophomore studying environmental science, is one of the student employees Roy manages, and she said that aside from the gear and classes, the staff is a great resource in itself.

“You can ask them any question or try something new and they’ll help you and you’ll feel totally comfortable,” she said. “They inspire you to get out there and try to do new things every day. I’ve already learned so much from them, and I think they’re an even greater resource than what’s already offered to us students.”

Roy said he is looking for big things from FOA.

“The goal is to become a leader in outdoor recreation in the state,” he said. “And we’re really blowing up. I don’t think Wisconsin’s ready for us! We’re coming like a train.”