Western Carolina University has been voted the “Top Adventure College” in a Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine online readers’ poll, reflecting the popularity of, and pride in, local outdoor activities.
The contest began Feb. 25 and had regional colleges and universities meeting in head-to-head matchups in a 32-school bracket, with WCU and Lees-McRae College, last year’s titleholder, moving on to the championship final.
“Over a half-million votes poured in to Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine’s ‘Top Adventure’ contest — the most ever in its seven-year history,” said Will Harlan, BRO editor-in-chief. “Once again, Western Carolina rallied its students, faculty, staff and alumni to a decisive victory. WCU boasts a premier location for outdoor adventure — with world-class whitewater, climbing crags and hundreds of miles of trails in national parks and national forests surrounding campus. It also offers outstanding outdoor education and adventure opportunities, such as the university’s outdoor program known as Base Camp Cullowhee.
“Most importantly, perhaps, Western has a dedicated, outdoor-minded campus community that promotes and celebrates adventure,” Harlan said. “It's not surprising that WCU has captured its fifth ‘Top Adventure College’ title. They’ve definitely earned it.”
Blue Ridge Outdoors is a print and online publication about outdoor recreation in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, with offices in Asheville and Charlottesville, Virginia. WCU had won the polling for four straight years then went into a “hall of fame” category in 2018 before returning to competition this year.
On campus and off, numerous outdoor opportunities await WCU students, faculty and staff, and the surrounding community. From a multiuse trail system behind the Health and Human Sciences Building on the university’s West Campus to the neighboring Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pisgah and Nantahala national forests, as well as scenic lakes and waterways such as the nearby Tuckaseigee River, there is quick and easy access to some of the most adventure-friendly landscapes in the South.
“Receiving the designation of ‘Top Adventure College’ is truly a tribute to the array of outdoor opportunities Western Carolina University has to offer,” said Shauna Sage, director of WCU’s Department of Campus Recreation and Wellness. “Our students not only live in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, but have opportunities to engage in outdoor activities in both the curricular and extracurricular realms of their student experience.”
Campus Recreation and Wellness’s outdoor program, Base Camp Cullowhee, offers equipment rentals, events and programs, including recreational trips and experiential education services.
Among the academic programs offered by WCU of interest to students pursuing careers in the outdoors are forest resource management, hospitality and tourism management, natural resource conservation and management, and parks and recreation management.
“This semester, I am piloting at new course entitled ‘Nature Rx,’” said Debby Singleton, an instructor in the parks and recreation management program. “Currently, it is an elective open to any student at WCU. I created this course because I saw a need to introduce, encourage and teach students how to enjoy the nature we have around us. We witness why time in nature ― the outdoors ― is good for not just our physical well-being, but also emotional, mental, intellectual and spiritual well-being.
“In a couple of weeks, we’re going to participate in a forest therapy session at Pinnacle Park with a certified forest therapy guide, Mark Ellison,” she said. “During each class period, we take one of the research studies mentioned in Florence Williams’ book, ‘The Nature Fix,’ and replicate it in class to see if we get the same results. The majority of the time we do. I think the main take-away is that students are attracted to WCU because of its location, but they still need assistance in learning how to enjoy it fully.”