For a Day or for a Week, Students of All Skill Levels Can Get Out of Comfort Zones

A person spreads their arms and poses for a photo while rock climbing. Image by OAP
Junior exercise science major Marianne Graham mugs for the camera while rock climbing during the Outdoor Adventure Program's spring break trip to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.

By Ed Brennen

Sam Morgan grew up in Boulder, Colorado, a paradise for outdoor recreation lovers. When he decided to come east to study meteorology and atmospheric science at UMass Lowell, he discovered that he could still enjoy hiking, skiing, biking and more through Campus Recreation’s Outdoor Adventure Program (OAP).
“Going on adventures outdoors seems to do something psychologically that feels extra meaningful and memorable,” says Morgan, a first-year student in the Kennedy College of Sciences. “It’s an opportunity to get a break from school and get into the great outdoors that we often forget about, living in an urban environment.”
Morgan was among 10 UML students who traveled to the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York for OAP’s recent “Spring Break Winter Extravaganza” trip. There they enjoyed downhill skiing, fat tire biking and hiking, plus a visit to the Lake Placid Olympic Museum.
“Although I loved being outdoors in a new part of the country that I’d never experienced before, my favorite thing about the trip was the people we were with,” says Andrew Chapman, a senior chemical engineering major from Beverly, Massachusetts, who served as one of four student leaders on the trip.
Eight people pose for a photo while standing on a mountain top. Image by OAP
Outdoor Adventure Program student leaders and participants reached new heights during their spring break trip to the Adirondacks.

Besides all-inclusive weeklong excursions to destinations such as the Grand Canyon and Florida Everglades during winter and spring breaks, OAP offers students day trips around New England throughout the academic year. Upcoming trips include rock climbing at Den Rock in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on April 7; a wellness day hike at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newbury, Massachusetts, on April 13; and a midnight bike ride along the Boston Marathon route on April 14 and 15.
Coordinator of Outdoor Programs Kate Ford joined UML three years ago from Burlington, Vermont, where she worked in residential life at the University of Vermont and Champlain College. A native of South Carolina, she has also worked as a canoe guide and dog sled guide in Minnesota.
Four people stand around a campfire at night under the stars. Image by OAP
OAP participants enjoy a campfire under the stars in the Adirondacks.
“The program opens students to experiences that they don’t think they want to try,” Ford says. “They might not think they have the capability, especially for some of our hiking trips, but they do it and feel so accomplished, which is awesome.”
While the pandemic disrupted participation in the programs, the numbers are back on track and most trips fill up, some with a small wait list, Ford says.
OAP also offers outdoor leadership experiences, as well as certification in wilderness first aid and wilderness first response. Students can also rent gear — everything from headlamps and sleeping bags to coolers — from the Outdoor Center and Bike Shop on East Campus for their own adventures.
“Part of our goal is to help students learn that they can get outside on their own. It’s not that complicated,” says Ford, who adds that the university strives to keep trips affordable “so we can get as many students on them as possible.”
Eight people pose for a photo while climbing up an icy path. Image by OAP
A warmer than average winter meant less ice and snow in the Adirondacks.
Rachel Beauchesne, a sophomore civil engineering major from Dracut, Massachusetts, has participated in several OAP programs this year, including a leadership course and wilderness first aid certification. As a transfer student who is new to campus this year, she says it’s helped her meet students from outside her major. She signed up for the Adirondack trip to get out of her comfort zone.
“I’m prone to not leaving the house, so going on the trip helped me change my routine and have a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Beauchesne, who enjoyed hitting the slopes at Whiteface Mountain after not downhill skiing for 10 years.
Alex Antonellis, a junior physics major from Harwich, Massachusetts, has been a student leader on several OAP trips, including the Adirondacks. 
“Being atop Phelps Mountain in the Adirondacks was an amazing experience,” he says. “We were totally alone in the woods — no sounds but the wind and the wildlife. Not a single roadway in sight, just snowcapped mountains, as far as you could see.”
A person looks up while climbing a rocky mountain side. Image by OAP
Senior chemical engineering major Andrew Chapman climbs the side of a rock face during the spring break trip.
Staying in a hostel in Lake Placid, students took turns making dinner for the group each night. Antonellis says his culinary abilities “do not match my skiing abilities,” but fortunately another student stepped in to help make a breakfast-for-dinner meal of pancakes, eggs and bacon.
“We sat around the table together, passing around a mountainous stack of pancakes, sharing stories and laughing,” he says. 
While the early March conditions in upstate New York were not as wintry as expected, the students adjusted on the fly. Ice climbing became rock climbing. Cross-country skiing turned into a hike.
“It didn’t affect the morale of the group,” says Chapman, who has led multiple trips over the past two years.
“Leading these trips is one of my favorite experiences that I’ll take away from UMass Lowell,” he says. “OAP has provided great access to the outdoors and nature, and I love being able to share this with so many people.”