OUTDOOR ACCOLADES

WCU once again named top outdoor college

By KEITH BRENTON

Western Carolina University successfully defended its title as the No. 1 college for outdoor adventure in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic as determined by the readers of a leading outdoors magazine in an annual online poll earlier this year.

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After winning Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine’s “top adventure college” contest last year, WCU recaptured the title, this time over the second-place school, Montreat College, following several rounds of voting in which the university also came out on top against Virginia Tech, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Appalachian State. Representatives of Blue Ridge Outdoors announced the results of the competition in May and promised a more complete survey of regional outdoor education offerings in the publication’s August issue.

Magazine staff member Travis Hall interviewed Josh Whitmore of Base Camp Cullowhee, WCU’s outdoor programming organization, and quoted him as saying, “We have a staff of three full-time employees and about 25 students who help us achieve our goals. We organize trips and events in places like Colorado and Utah, but we focus heavily on our own backyard.” That “backyard,” the article said, consists of public lands like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, which “afford WCU students quick and easy access to some of the best landscapes the Southern Appalachians have to offer. But what really sets it apart from similar mountain schools are WCU’s outdoor resources, experience, and leadership.”

Whitmore, who oversees Base Camp Cullowhee operations, also spoke of many land-, air- and water-based activities available in the university’s area, and of his program’s growth in the adventure-rich environment. “Over the years, Base Camp Cullowhee has evolved from a small outdoor program within the recreation department to its own entity with over 9,000 participant experiences per year. In 2008, we completed a 2,100-square-foot indoor rock climbing facility, and just a couple years ago we added a 7-mile multiuse trail system,” Whitmore said. “Our staff does a lot of great work, but the students are the ones that really run the show here.”

In addition to Base Camp Cullowhee, WCU offers numerous academic programs for students interested in careers in the outdoors, including parks and recreation management, forest resources, hospitality and tourism, and natural resource conservation and management.