Taking Advantage of the Great Outdoors
If there’s a silver lining in the Covid-19 cloud, it’s that people have spent more time outside than ever before. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, participation in running, cycling, hiking, bird watching, and camping increased markedly after the March 2020 shutdown.
With the recent uptick in Covid-19 cases, the great outdoors has once again been the safest place to exercise and socialize. And with cooler temperatures on the way, there are worse things than being out in nature.
According to David Knobbe, director of Outdoor Recreation Georgia Tech (ORGT), a program of the Campus Recreation Center, “It is well known that connecting with nature is good for people’s health and well-being. It lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, improves mood and focus, and helps us heal better.”
Fortunately, several groups at Tech are helping the campus community take advantage of these benefits, including ORGT, Starter Bikes, and Trailblazers, to name a few:
ORGT has been providing outdoor adventures for the Georgia Tech campus for more than 50 years. Typically, ORGT serves around 5,000 individuals annually, offering over 120 open-enrollment trip options in nine different adventure sports.
Earlier in the pandemic, ORGT had to discontinue providing transportation to and from its outdoor adventure destinations, opting instead for “meet-up-style trips.” That, unfortunately, “left a lot of people behind,” Knobbe says. “But now, we are fully back in business, offering trips that include orientation, expertise, equipment, and transportation.”
People are “chomping at the bit to get out and connect not just with the outdoors, but with one another,” he said, and ORGT-led trips scheduled for fall are filling up fast. But, he added, those who want to venture out on their own should know that ORGT has equipment for rent.
“We rent backpacking gear, boats, sleeping bags – really everything one needs to put together their own adventure,” Knobbe says.
For novices, he recommends starting simple. “Know what you’re doing and be sure you have the basics,” he said. “ORGT has a lot of information like that, plus coaching is available around where beginners might go within a few hours of campus.”
Jordan Lym, fourth-year industrial design student and president of Starter Bikes, wasn’t sure what he expected at their opening day this semester, but it wasn’t almost 150 people lined up to buy a bicycle.
“At the beginning of the year, we usually have 50 at most, so this was pretty crazy,” he recalls.
Starter Bikes serves as an “adoption shelter” of sorts for abandoned bicycles from around campus. The bike is tagged and if the owner doesn’t show up to claim it within 30 days, it is sold “for a quarter to half of what it would cost on the secondhand market,” Lym says.
The catch is, if repairs are required — which is often the case — the new owner must provide the labor. To help, Starter Bikes sells replacement parts for cost, provides tools, and coaches buyers through the repair process.
Inventory is always changing, and “the bikes can range from really poor condition to it just needs a simple lube on the chain and you’re done,” Lym says.
Adhering to Covid-19 protocols has been fairly painless, Lym says, because everyone can spread out on the bottom level of the CRC parking lot, where Starter Bikes is located.
Starter Bikes sees itself as an integral part of the cycling culture at Tech, which has a Bicycle Master Plan and has been designated a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly University.
“It’s rewarding to see people excited about bikes and learning to do their own maintenance,” Lym says. “We want to inspire people to ride, even after college, and the best way to do that is to give them confidence.”
For Trailblazers, it’s not enough to get out in nature — while they’re at it, they work to preserve it, promote it, and make it more accessible to all.
Emily Schroeder, a second-year business administration major and Trailblazers’ outreach chair and alternative break coordinator, is busy these days planning the group’s camping trip for fall break. She also leads tree tours around Tech’s campus arboretum.
Last year, the pandemic curtailed some of their activities and pushed their meetings onto BlueJeans, but “if anything,” Schroeder says, “an online format made the club more accessible.”
This year, they’re moving toward more in-person activities — doing things like pulling invasive plant species and working in community gardens — although they’re limiting events to 20 participants for now, just to ensure that everyone can distance according to their comfort level and feel safe.
“Students and staff should know that Trailblazers is an easy and fun way to get involved outdoors,” Schroeder says. “We have numerous events that are beginner-friendly and super hands-on. If you love caring for the environment and giving back to the community, Trailblazers is the organization for you.”