For the first semester back on campus since the outbreak of COVID-19, Outdoor Pursuits has been implementing certain safety procedures to allow students to enjoy outdoor activities in the midst of a pandemic.
Following the restrictions set in place by the university, OP has had to make changes to the way they run activities and trips, resulting in some cancellations and a lack of participation from the student body.
According to junior Grant McLuskie, a member of the leadership team with OP, the regulations have prevented the team from conducting any overnight trips that are typically offered. They have also had to reduce the number of people who can go on a trip and rework the way they manage gear to limit contact with customers and reduce the risk of COVID transmission.
“The procedures become tedious after a while, but they are needed to ensure safety for all participating,” said McLuskie. “In the field, the activities and the experience in the outdoors are not really hindered by our new rules, other than social distancing which is pretty easy to do.”
Freshman Rosa Bowen, a “gear guru” with OP, has seen the impacts of COVID on student participation first hand. Because there have been restrictions as to how many trips can go out, business has been slow and student outreach has been limited.
“It’s hard to judge what business would be like normally because this is my first year working with OP, but my coworkers are telling me to be patient. There’s been talk of running more trips with a stronger structure, so I think we will see an increase in participation and rental sales soon,” Bowen said.
Although there was widespread disappointment when Voyages was cancelled, OP has still found ways to provide adventure through activities like surfing, white water rafting, sea kayaking, rock climbing, paddle boarding, and hiking.
Aaron Greer, an Anthropology Professor at the university and the leader of the surfing activities, felt that this year’s Surf Series was one of the best yet, even with five participants.
“We had a lot of fun. The students were excellent learners, supported each other well, and dove in with gusto. We followed all COVID protocols, like wearing masks in the vans, but that didn’t stop us from chatting and getting to know each other,” Greer said. “It really seemed like any other trip, we just all looked like bandits.”
The future of OP is uncertain, as no one knows how COVID-19 will continue to develop in the upcoming months. Despite this, Greer believes that OP will start to flourish because of people’s boredom.
“It could be good for us, and, importantly, the students, because they’ll want things to do in places that are outside and distant, and that’s exactly what we do,” Greer said. “The issue would be stricter protocols from the State of Oregon or administrators, which might limit us. But those things notwithstanding, I’m hoping students recognize how much fun they can have with us getting outside and playing, even if it’s cold and rainy.” — Chandler Fleming
Photo: Outdoor Pursuits has changed many protocols to keep both students and staff safe following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic (Chandler Fleming)