Students can find community in the great outdoors

Joining outdoor programs, student-led clubs can help maintain mental health



WSU Fastpitch Club member Sam Shaffer warms up with her teammates.

FRANKIE BEER, Evergreen Photographer

It is well-known that going outside can do wonders for both your physical and mental well-being. Here at WSU, the Outdoor Recreation Center and several student-led clubs have been connecting students with the great outdoors for decades now.

The Outdoor Recreation Center offers over 100 wilderness-based programs each year like backpacking, kayaking and skiing. For students and community members, these outdoor programs offer a chance to socialize and unplug from the stress of daily life. 

“It’s that break that you need from everything that’s going on to just recharge and have a different experience, so you’re ready to get back at it once you return,” said Matt Wagner, University Recreation Center outdoor programs coordinator. 

Many WSU students find a community through ORC’s longer activities like overnight backpack trips. Instead of spending mere hours with each other, students spend days working together to traverse the backcountry. 

The ORC is planning more backpack trips throughout the fall and a trip to Zion National Park over Thanksgiving break. 

The women involved in the WSU Fastpitch Club also found a community of students through their love of softball and the outdoors. 

Belle Watt, senior computer science major and club president, said she met most of her friends through the club. It also helped her safely socialize in 2020 during the pandemic. 

“We were active through COVID-19 last year,” Watt said. “Honestly, that was the best thing for me because I was out of my house and away from my laptop.”

Although the club is a competitive team, practicing outdoors allows team members to release stress and improve their mental health. 

The club is hosting a tournament in Pullman the weekend of Sept. 25 to fundraise for nationals, new uniforms and travel fees. The team will also compete in two home games against Eastern Washington University on the weekend of Oct. 2. 

“It’s a good thing for people to get away from school activities, take a break and get their stress out,” Watt said. 

WSU’s Climbing Club was founded last April, providing a community for recreational and competitive climbers. Students in the Climbing Club participate in outdoor sport climbing and bouldering around the Pacific Northwest. The club will face competitions in the future, but its members focus on their enjoyment of the sport. 

“Anybody can join at any skill level,” said Ryan Duong, Climbing Club vice president. “We just want to get as many people who like climbing as possible to come hang out at the [climbing] wall.”

Duong said club members often spend hours with each other on the long drives to outdoor bouldering sites throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Duong said setting goals for climbing also helps improve members’ mental health. Many members train year-round for local competitions and American Collegiate competitions. 

“Having that time to just do what you love, climbing or hanging out with people, that’s super beneficial,” Duong said.