Penn State Deems Outdoors Club Too Risky

The club offered backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and trail maintenance trips ‘from the Catskills to California.’

Penn State Outing Club

Penn State University’s Outing Club (PSOC) launched in 1920 as a means for students to plan, prepare, and embark on outdoor adventures. PSOC is wholly student run and proudly proclaims it’s one of the school’s oldest clubs.

But earlier this month, the 98-year-old club announced a university-led risk assessment would force it to stop leading outdoor adventures. According to a statement on the club’s website, PSU “determined that the types of activities in which PSOC engages are above the University’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations.”

While PSU said the assessment was not a public document, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the Archery Club, Alpine Ski Racing Club, Boxing Club, and Rifle Club all passed the same assessment.

Penn State Outing Club Suspended

Penn State Outing Club canoe trip

After PSU notified the Outing Club of its decision, members launched an online survey soliciting questions and suggestions on the matter. It also asked respondents to share stories of how the club impacted them.

“We have just been amazed by the outpouring of support we have received in the past few days alone!” reads a club Facebook post that followed the survey. “This organization has meant so much to so many, and the stories we have received have been truly inspiring.”

Currently, PSOC claims 169 members. But the nearly century-old club’s Facebook page, launched just six years ago, boasts more than 1,800 followers, many of whom are former members. Among those who spoke out against the move was Charlie Walbridge, a paddling expert and former safety chairman of both the American Canoe Association and American Whitewater.

“Appalling! This is a huge loss for the University Community,” Walbridge wrote on the Outing Club’s Facebook page. “PSOC was at the forefront of whitewater paddling in the 60’s and 70’s. John Sweet (a national champion) invited me to their roll sessions when I was a student at Bucknell University.”

PSU spokeswoman Lisa Powers told the Post-Gazette that staff members from the Campus Recreation, Risk Management, and Student Activities spoke with Outing Club leaders over the last year about “how those activities can be more safely pursued.”

Powers elaborated, citing the club’s outings were in remote locations out of reach of cell phone signal and emergency services. She also said PSU’s decision was not based on any reported injuries, but rather a “proactive risk assessment.”

PSU Outing Club vs. Outdoor Adventures

Penn State Outing Club hike in Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia

Students are in charge of PSOC, which is one of the primary issues surrounding PSU’s decision. But the university also has a staff-run Adventure Recreation program. Like the Outing Club, Adventure Recreation hosts excursions across a range of activities, including paddling, mountain biking, caving, and climbing.

But the Adventure Rec’s staff and student leaders, Powers told the Post-Gazette, are “better trained and more experienced.” This comes at a cost, though. Canoeing and paddling trips through Adventure Rec charge between $100 and $120. Membership dues for PSOC run $20, plus $5 to $10 in trip fees.

PSOC will continue planned trips for this semester, but PSU is suspending all subsequent trips. The future of PSOC outings remains uncertain. If you’d like to comment on PSOC’s survey, you can find it here.

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Adam Ruggiero is an all-sport activity junkie - from biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming. If it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.
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