Out on the Water

Cornell students at an outing club “paddling session.” 

The student outdoor clubs on East and South hills couldn’t be more different. The Cornell Outing Club is one of the oldest student organizations at the university and the documents that detail its history are actually cataloged in archives of the Kroch Library. The Ithaca College equivalent is a subdivision of a department called “Outdoor Recreation and Climbing Wall” and consists of an equipment rental service.

The Cornell Outing Club announces that exists in order to develop student outdoor skills and leadership experience and as a venue for forming “lifetime bonds.” Ithaca College outdoor recreation doesn’t claim to do anything like that and on the face it seems to exist to help students have fun in the out of doors.

At Cornell undergraduates are charged $7 per semester to pay for the outing club (whether they join or not) and all others are charged $10. There is no charge for trips per se, but everyone who goes along on an excursion is expected to chip in for the costs of food, transportation and “incidentals.” The club has a large collection of gear and it is available at no charge for use on official club trips.

The destinations are decided on and the excursions led by club members. Plans are made and announced at the weekly meetings, which are held on Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. in the art gallery at Willard Straight. Most of the trips used to leave from Japes Lodge, which is located on Beebe Lake off Cradit Farm Road on North Campus. Early last year the building was condemned* and now stands vacant. There are plans in the works by Cornell University Sustainable Design to replace it, but funding is now the issue.

The outing club is financed by funds from the Student Activities Finance Commission, membership fees, and money received from Cornell Plantations in exchange for work done by students to clean up the gorges.

The Ithaca College Outdoor Recreation Equipment Center is located in the Fitness Center. The space exists to warehouse camping and sporting equipment. There is no club per se; the equipment can be rented by any member of the campus community. Equipment is rented per piece for fixed per diem prices. Stoves range from $4 to $10; packs from $6 to $8; tents from $10 to $15; sleeping bags from $5 to $9 and sleeping pads are $1 a piece. The price increases every few days in multiples of the per diem price, but after 12 days you pay the per diem price each additional day.

The nearest equivalent to an outing club at IC would seem to be their “Ride Club,” a part of the “Sport Club.” The Sport Club was established 30 years ago and consists of 38 “sub-clubs”. It has been administrated by the Office of Recreational Sports since 2001. The students elect officers who draft the constitutions, request facility space, and get approval for travel arrangements. The Ride Club is a network of people with vehicles who collaborate to carpool to destinations, primarily for outdoor recreation like snowboarding and skiing at Greek Peak.

Connor Benfield, the current president of the Cornell Outing Club, was aware of the state of things at IC. “They have the outdoor recreation major, but they don’t really have a club,” he said. “We were thinking about reaching out to them, because you don’t have to be a Cornell student to be a member of the outing club.” Benfield said that there are about 400 dues paying members, but something like 1,300 people are signed up to the listserv.

The Cornell club is active year round, with more elaborate trips planned during breaks. The most common destinations, according to Benfield, are the Adirondacks for hiking and whitewater kayaking, the Shawangunks for rock climbing, the Catskills for hiking, and last years some folks went up to the Ottawa River in Canada for some kayaking.

Over winter break last year some Cornell students went to Colombia for backpacking and rock climbing and during spring break the Red River Gorge in Kentucky is a regular destination.

The outing club also serves a pedagogical purpose. “When I came here as a freshman,” said Benfield, “I didn’t have much outdoor experience. We have ‘activity chairs’ who bring beginners into the position where they can lead field trips.” The club holds “skill sessions” where people learn to build a fire, tie knots for climbing, and how to dress for winter sports to avoid frostbite and hypothermia.

They reach out to the broader community for other skills. “We have presentations by local experts,” said Benfield. “The guy who teaches the birding classes for the public at the Lab of O talked about birdwatching and we had someone come in who was an expert at animal tracking.”

The outing club will be part of Cornell’s “Club Fest” in Barton Hall. First-year students should look for their table to get more information or go to cornelloutingclub.org for more information. §

*Clarification received on Oct. 2, 2015: "The article states that Japes Lodge was condemned. While the building was restricted from student use by the university, it was never condemned by public regulation. Representatives of the university expressed concern for the integrity of the roof while an independent inspector found the roof to be in fine order. Thanks, Brendan Brown"


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