Western Carolina University has won a fourth-straight title of “top adventure college” as determined by an online readers’ poll conducted by Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine.
WCU topped Sweet Briar College in Virginia for the recognition in voting that ended Monday, April 17. The announcement was made Tuesday, April 25, by Blue Ridge Outdoors, a print and online publication about outdoor recreation in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, with offices in Asheville and Charlottesville, Virginia. A feature article will be published in the May issue.
On campus and off, numerous outdoor opportunities await WCU students, faculty and staff. From a multi-use 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 Southern Appalachian Mountains.
It’s not just WCU’s current students, faculty and staff who get excited about the university and its outdoor opportunities and who are willing to vote in the magazine’s poll, but also alumni, said Debby Singleton, instructor in WCU’s Parks and Recreation Management Program.
“At WCU, and especially in the PRM Program, we create a sense of community with our students. We guide them through their academic careers, help them find meaningful internships and then work with them to find jobs once they graduate,” Singleton said. “That sense of community continues once they are alumni. Our PRM graduates stay in touch with us and each other. So when the call goes out to vote for WCU as the top adventure college, it’s amazing to see the shares on our WCU PRM Alumni Facebook page as they reach out to connect with their classmates. Even our international students were sharing the posts from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.”
Numerous members of the campus community are active in mountain and road cycling, whitewater kayaking, hiking, fishing, nature photography and other outdoor pursuits. Base Camp Cullowhee, WCU’s outdoor programming organization, helps facilitate such pursuits, offering a climbing wall, outdoor excursions, a guide service and rental equipment that provide support for more than 9,000 participant experiences annually.
“Base Camp Cullowhee has been going through a lot of changes and transition over the last couple of years. It’s rewarding to continue to receive this award during this rollercoaster ride. To be named the top adventure college, it shows that Base Camp Cullowhee, and even WCU as a whole, has a strong outdoor presence and is only continuing to grow the outdoor programming. We are trending up with new and exciting outdoor recreation opportunities to meet our growing student interest,” said Kay Tufts, assistant director of outdoor programs.
“Many students do not enter college with a background as an outdoor professional. Some arrive with a certain level of outdoor experience and interest. All students come to learn and gain experiences. WCU provides the opportunity to learn in the classroom and encourages students to pursue their interests where ever they may lie,” Tufts said.
The outdoor adventures at WCU are endless and unparalleled anywhere in the Southeast, said Cole Cantrell, a junior from Granite Falls majoring in criminal justice who is president of the WCU Fly Fishing Club. “There’s a very diverse ecosystem that supports some of the best streams and rivers for fly fishing and other on-the-water activities,” Cantrell said. “WCU offers many opportunities for different adventures, but the fly fishing in and around WCU is truly unique and has unparalleled fisheries, which is why Jackson County is the trout capital of North Carolina. The adventures to be found around WCU are endless, and that’s what makes it so attractive for outdoor enthusiasts.”
The opportunities both curricular and extracurricular, along with location, were key elements to gaining the votes that brought the recognition, said Steve Morse, director of WCU’s Hospitality and Tourism Program.
“Winning the top award for four-straight years is confirmation that WCU’s location as the closest four-year college to the most visited national park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway provides exceptional opportunities for living and learning in this beautiful area,” Morse said. “Because of the wonderful location and natural resources available in the area, the university’s academic programs have wonderful outdoor laboratories where professors and students can connect theory with real-world applications that are unmatched. Outdoor-minded students have the opportunity to become engaged with our sustainable natural resources in the area while studying a wide variety of subjects.”
For those with the right mindset and aptitude, that makes for a lifestyle choice. Phil Cauley, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate enrollment, provides an example. “The recognition for another successive year does not surprise me,” Cauley said. “The great outdoors were a significant lure, pun intended, for me decades ago when I was searching for the right fit in terms of a college and when I chose to attend WCU out of high school. The variety of outdoor activities is a significant factor that has kept me here for more than 30 successive years. I’m reminded of the variety of options every time I pull into my garage and make sure to dodge the kayaks, fishing rods, waders, backpacks, snowboards, inner tubes, camping gear and mountain bikes that vie for space.
“When you live in a county that brags as being the state trout-fishing headquarters, and yet has the most golf courses of any of the 100 counties in North Carolina, the variety of outdoor options are extensive,” Cauley said. “When a daytrip can take you to dozens of national and state forests and parks in five different states for myriad outdoor activities, but you’re blessed to have a 6.7-mile hiking and mountain biking trail right on campus, you find yourself in an envious position.”
Cauley said he still remembers a favorite statement of his late father-in-law, who was an outdoor enthusiast. “Every summer, as I helped him pack the car for a family beach trip, he would turn to me and say, ‘Phil, why are we leaving the place everybody else is coming to?’ My roommate at WCU, who was from the suburbs of one of the largest cities in North Carolina, told me he was sold on WCU when he saw the picture of the mountain setting on the admission brochure at the college fair he attended,” Cauley said.