As Kenyon continues to recover from the pandemic, many students are taking advantage of the extensive natural beauty that Gambier and its surrounding area have to offer. Places like the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) and the Kenyon Farm provide opportunities for students to enjoy the natural world, but in recent years, the Kenyon College Outdoors Club (KCOC) has been increasingly responsible for getting Kenyon students outside.
KCOC, which has been active since the 1990s, organizes a variety of weekend excursions ranging from camping to hiking to fishing, as well as longer trips over the October and spring breaks. The club also sponsors an annual pre-orientation backpacking trip through the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, which it has hosted since 2009. Club president Wyatt Henneman ’23 wrote in an email to the Collegian that “the mission of the Outdoors Club has always been to facilitate experiential learning, to create opportunities for students to connect with one another and to encourage engagement with the natural world in an organized, affordable and safe setting.”
According to Henneman, he got involved with the Outdoors Club “right off the bat” during his first year at Kenyon when he went on the pre-orientation backpacking trip. He credits the trip with helping students find a footing on campus, a sentiment that was echoed by other participants in a recent Collegian profile of the experience. A firm believer in the unifying power of the outdoors, Henneman noted the bonding opportunities presented by club-sponsored activities. “You get to break out of your routine, go to a place you’ve never been before and experience something completely new.”
This is a sentiment shared by Hannah Ehrlich ’26, who recently went “Bigfoot hunting” in Salt Fork State Park with KCOC. “It was nice to meet new people, especially some upperclassmen, and it was great getting to take a break from studying and get outside off of campus,” she said. Ehrlich also expressed her enjoyment of the unexpected moments that can occur during trips, citing one from the outing: “We drove to a hiking trail that led up to a historical house, and two volunteers gave us a spontaneous tour.”
The club offers many off-kilter activities that break away from standard hiking and camping, including canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, rock climbing, biking, tobogganing and downhill skiing. On the subject of a fishing trip for steelhead trout in Ohio’s Vermilion River, Henneman referenced his past experiences with nature and the outdoors that have shaped his current philosophy: “My father taught me to fish when I was young, and I want to use this knowledge to create a safe and accessible learning opportunity for as many students as I can.”
Henneman expressed that in the aftermath of the pandemic, there has been an uptick in interest in experiencing the outdoors, leading more students to get involved in the club over the course of the last few semesters. This has posed a few challenges, since Ohio’s unpredictable weather can make it difficult to plan outings for large groups ahead of time. Another, more unprecedented challenge, according to Henneman, is a troubling trend of students canceling their trips on short notice, not giving the club time to fill their spot with someone on the waitlist.
Despite this, Henneman was very optimistic about the club’s future. “The number of students who are interested in trips shows the school how much interest there is in Outdoors Club. We are always looking for thoughtful, organized and passionate students who want to get more involved and bring new ideas to the table,” he said.