In the mountainous region of the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff offers various outdoor recreation opportunities. One, in particular, is NAU’s Outdoor Adventure Program (OA) which sets up its trip leader staff with extensive knowledge of outdoor recreation. 

Over the past year, OA began its rebuilding process, initiated by new leadership. 

Myriam Bishop, coordinator of logistics at NAU Campus Recreation, began working with the team in January. Born and raised in the French Alps, she carries a passion for outdoor recreation — something Bishop said inspired her greatest travel and career decisions. Bishop went from guiding backpack trips in Iceland to doing the same in the Grand Canyon. Now, she brings an extensive background in outdoor jobs to OA. Bishop said she is excited to get the program back up and running after the pandemic shutdown. 

The OA program offers various activities for NAU students: Mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, whitewater and flatwater trips. Bishop said she wants the program to focus on accommodating and cultivating the students’ interests. It intends to cater to many experience levels, ranging from highly inclusive, beginner-friendly trips to advanced trips for those who want to push their skills to the next level.   

Before the pandemic, the program would organize two to three trips a month.

“We’re going to start humble and build up,” Bishop said. 

This begins with training new staff for trip leader positions. 

The position offers staff the opportunity to guide their fellow students and off-campus groups in outdoor adventures. Before exercising their leadership role, staff must complete general training. This covers first aid, risk management, group dynamics, team building and even learning to assess psychological components. Anxiety, fear of heights, or homesickness can result from people stepping outside their comfort zones.

Activity-specific training will further prepare staff to lead outfitting trips. Throughout the training, staff members acquire various certifications, qualifying them to take on whatever is thrown at them. 

“If it’s for a backpacking trip, we’re actually going to go with those students on a backpacking trip and run them through all the elements that it takes to be a trip leader,” Bishop said.

The trainees went to the Grand Canyon last week to work on trail education — covering topics like safety, education of the area and how to run a trip smoothly. Bishop was a Grand Canyon guide for six years and passed along extensive knowledge of interesting facts and necessary information about hiking on the trails. 

Second-year student Luke Neville is a trainee in the trip leader training program. Growing up, Neville said he spent a lot of time outdoors, finding his passion for being outside. The pandemic gave him a chance to spend more time exploring the Oregon area and developing his outdoor interests. Neville said his friends who work at the John Haeger Health and Learning Center (HLC) climbing wall told him about the open position, and he looks forward to where it will take him.

“This job is definitely a stepping stone,” Neville said.

The trip leader position offers experience Neville said he would have struggled to obtain otherwise. He applied for many summer jobs and was turned down because he lacked experience. Now, every time he earns a new certification in the training process, he immediately plugs it into his resume. Neville said this job will make him more hireable, even after the little time he has been with OA.  

“I think just the whole process of planning something [and] carrying it out [is important] — recognizing everything that you need to do, and then, at the end of it being able to talk about what went really well and what [didn’t],” Neville said. 

Neville said he is excited about the learning experiences he will gain within this job as well as the places he will travel to for future trips.

“I’m really excited to do a rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon — a week-plus backpacking trip — or something like that,” Neville said.

Bishop provides extensive knowledge and many accessible resources to her staff. Neville said he feels this will better prepare him for a career in his field of study — parks and recreation.

Neville said he is happy the program is starting up again. He said he believes it will benefit NAU students wishing for a better introduction to wilderness adventures. 

“We’re restarting the program, trying to publicize it, trying to get people to know that it’s a thing,” Neville said. “I think the most important thing is just to get it off the ground again because it is a super cool opportunity for students who like to get outside or who have never been outside.”

The training process prepares trip leaders to guide and educate students by obtaining various certifications, specific to safety and the outdoors. 

Second-year student Elizabeth Paddison is another trip leader trainee. She said she grew up boating and camping at Lake Powell with her family, which is where she found a love for the outdoors. Her sister joined the OA program at the University of Arizona and inspired her to do the same at NAU. 

Since training began, Paddison said she is already applying what she learned from completing Coconino County’s Backcountry Food Specialist Certification to her daily life. This course educates students on how to cook in an outdoor environment while also accommodating various food restrictions. Examples of this include how to prepare and preserve raw meat, filter water properly to avoid a case of food poisoning and safely plan their meals based on the wildlife and weather in their location.

This was just the first of many courses Paddison plans to take. 

“I really want to get [a certification] called the wilderness first responder,” Paddison said. “It’s a higher level of first aid in the wilderness [for] when you can’t get to a hospital quickly.”

These certifications help trip leaders feel prepared to guide various activity trips. By educating themselves, staff can also pass on their wilderness knowledge. Paddison emphasized the importance of educating people about outdoor recreation; trainees learn how to keep the outdoors safe, sustainable and clean.

Paddison said she looks forward to introducing people to the outdoors.

“I know a lot of people are hesitant,” Paddison said. “I've been hesitant, but being able to be a door for somebody to start falling in love with backpacking or camping or hiking or rafting, I think it’d be a lot of fun to share that.” 

One of the upcoming trips is the Wilderness Welcome Program — 10 days full of outdoor activities for first-years to orient themselves and build new relationships. 

“We are hoping to have one backpacking trip, one multi-activity trip, and two different river trips,” Bishop said. 

Bishop said in the future she wants both the trip leaders and student participants to have a say in locations and activities. She intends on making their outdoor aspirations a reality, so she takes their wishes into account. 

A few students expressed interest in ice climbing, but northern Arizona lacks a safe location for the activity. Therefore, Bishop said she is considering the idea of a trip to Colorado where students could have an immersive, safe experience of ice climbing.

While ice gear would not be a practical purchase for Campus Recreation, most other outdoor equipment is available for students to check out. 

First-year student Maggie Lowndes works at the OA gear checkout room. Lowndes said the outdoor atmosphere attracted her to Flagstaff and she hopes to share outdoor experiences with others by applying for the trip leader position. 

“I think [the gear checkout program] is a super cool — and price-efficient — way for people to experiment with a variety of things in the outdoors, learn about what they want to get into, and all the ways they can have fun outside,” Lowndes said. “The staff is always trying to brainstorm new ways to get more people outside which is something I just adore about our program.”

Students can visit the OA website to see the full list of outdoor equipment available for rent. 

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