In the basement of the IM Building lies a hidden gem: the brand new Penn State Adventure Recreation Center (ARC). Adventure Recreation, typically shortened to AdRec, is a relatively little-known department within Campus Recreation that aims to engage students in outdoor adventure.
AdRec Program Coordinator Danny Williams wants to stress that the program is open to anyone who wishes to become involved. Even non-students have the opportunity to take advantage of AdRec.
“Many students tend to assume we’re some kind of club or exclusive organization,” Williams said. “We want students to know how easy it is to get involved.”
The most familiar portion of the organization to most students would likely be the new rock climbing facilities inside the newly-renovated IM Building. However, AdRec also offers guided outdoor adventure excursions, gear rentals, and access to the Stone Valley Vertical Adventures high ropes course located 17 miles from campus in the Stone Valley Recreation Area. Stone Valley is a 700-acre outdoor recreation and educational facility owned and operated by Penn State, and you can find more information on the AdRec website.
The ARC is currently one of the only open portions of the IM Building basement. However, once Phase 3 of the IM Building renovations is complete, the Department of Kinesiology’s Center for Wellness and Fitness and the UHS Wellness center will join it.
“Outdoor recreation fits into the whole scope of health and wellness promotion that the university is moving towards,” Williams said.
AdRec recently moved to a much larger facility for this semester. The new space includes the main reception area where students can register for trips, check out guidebooks and other outdoor literature from the AdRec Library, or just hang out between classes; a conference room for pre- and post-trip meetings; and a large equipment room filled with tents, snowshoes, standup paddle boards, and more.
“We love the functionality. It’s a great space, and operationally things are so much easier,” Williams said. “When we have a backpacking trip return, we can get everything cleaned up in about 20 minutes.”
Backpacking is just one of many trip opportunities available through AdRec. This semester alone, AdRec student staff will lead a total of 27 trips and clinics for students of all skill levels, from outdoor rock climbing at the local crag to a winter break mountaineering trip to Algonquin Peak in New York. Other trips include whitewater rafting, hiking, horseback riding, caving, fly-fishing, paddle sports, and mountain biking.
You can sign up for a trip on the Campus Rec website or in person at the ARC. Food, gear, and transportation are all provided, and many trips don’t require any prior experience.
AdRec aims to create a unique and memorable experience that serves as an alternative to the standard college social scene. In a world where it’s often hard for students to put their phones down, getting away from all of the noise and distractions of modern life allows people to connect on a deeper level.
“Most students come in at first because they want to try an activity or their friends signed up, but it’s always the relational experience, the human experiences that keep people coming back,” Williams said.
All trips are led by student guides who must first take a semester-long course called the Adventure Recreation Orientation (ARO) program. The class focuses on trip planning and logistics, group and risk management, and leadership development, in addition to certification in Wilderness First Aid and CPR. Meeting the qualifications can be tough, but for those who go through it, the work is worth it.
“What makes it special compared to working anywhere else on campus is getting paid to do what you love,” AdRec guide Jake Cramer said. “When I have free time, I actually go out and do the same things I get paid to do when I work for Adventure Rec, so it’s a win-win.”
For these students, one of the best parts of the program is having the ability to learn valuable everyday skills. In fact, the work they do is a consistent team effort.
“Guiding trips is like, the best job ever,” AdRec guide Hannah Schoener said. “Working for AdRec has helped me grow as a leader. When you’re out in the field you’re really just connecting with the people around you, connecting to the people that you work with but also to the participants because we’re learning something together.”
Of course, guided trips are just the beginning for some folks. Once you build basic outdoor skills, you can take advantage of the rental center. Don’t have a tent, a backpack, or that sleeping bag to keep you warm for winter backpacking? The rental center allows students to rent outdoor gear for pretty cheap rates, whether it’s for a day, a weekend, or longer.
Vertical Adventures and Team Building
Student clubs and organizations, as well as university departments and even the public, are welcome journey out to Stone Valley to engage in team-building exercises at the high ropes course. Reservations can be made through the contact form on Vertical Adventures page of the AdRec website, though the facility is currently closed for the winter season. AdRec also hopes to bring more “portable” team building opportunities to campus in the near future.
Some of the most impressive new features in the IM Building this semester are the rock climbing facilities where students can engage in both roped climbing and bouldering. Climbing shoes are required on both walls, but fear not — AdRec offers free shoe rentals at various locations inside the facility.
The roped wall tops out at 42 feet and offers climbing for every level of experience. The wall is open every day of the week except Wednesday, but some hours are restricted to those with an “All Access” pass. You can purchase one for just $30 per semester.
Climbers must be belayed, or attached to a safety rope via a climbing harness, in order to climb. Harnesses and belay devices are available at the desk, and students must take a test with a staff member in order to belay. Those without prior experience can learn to belay from a climbing wall staff member, which usually takes about a half hour.
Bouldering is another form of rock climbing that is fairly low to the ground and unsupported by ropes, but offers a different type of challenge: It’s more about technique and less about endurance than roped climbing. The bouldering wall is accessible at all times the IM Building is open and only requires a short orientation with a student staff member to get started.
Arguably the coolest thing about the climbing walls is the sense of community. While climbing definitely qualifies as exercise, it’s also a social activity. You’ll often see the same faces hanging around, and people are constantly cheering one another on or offering help to figure out a route or problem. The staff are helpful, friendly, and passionate about climbing — you can even find them at the wall during their off hours, as well.