New AOP director plans to expand, improve program

Dedicated to organizing and facilitating outdoor activities for students, faculty and staff, the Augustana Outdoor Program (AOP) works to expand students’ world beyond the classroom and to create fun and exciting experiences for the campus community.

Over J-term break, the Augustana Outdoor Program celebrated the end of January’s heavy course load by traveling to Red Lodge, Montana, where the new AOP Coordinator Ryan Brown led a group of students up the Red Lodge Mountain to snowboard and ski.

“It was a super exciting trip,” said Augustana freshman Cooper Benning. “We got 26 inches of snow in 24 hours, so there was a lot of fresh powder we got to ski and snowboard on.”

Offering a wide variety of activities including archery, rock climbing, cross country skiing, tubing, hiking, slacklining, kayaking and trap shooting, the AOP challenges those who want to adventure and celebrate the outdoors.

“One of the main reasons I decided to take this position here at Augie was to see AOP take off and grow,” said Ryan Brown, who came to Augustana last semester with a B.A. in Outdoor Recreation Management. “My goal for AOP is to offer a variety of programs that allow students to enjoy God’s creation and more directly experience the natural world.”

Through relationships he made as a park ranger in Montana and Wyoming, Brown co-founded a faith based nonprofit company that provided free wilderness adventures for youth, ages 13-18, in Montana and continues to do so today. Just as he did in his role as the executive director of the nonprofit, Brown hopes to lead and encourage Augustana students as they develop a greater understanding of and appreciation for the wilderness through AOP activities.

On the mountain in Red Lodge, Benning was able to experience skiing and snowboarding at an intensity beyond what’s available in Sioux Falls.

“Their level is a whole new level,” Benning said. “Compared to out there (in Montana), Great Bear is more or less a glorified hill.”

“These programs are not simply for entertainment purposes, but designed to help students develop skills and a comfort level with the outdoors so they can enjoy these healthy activities on their own,” Brown said.

At Augustana, Benning looks to continue exploring all that the AOP has to offer this spring.

“With their weekend specials — snowshoeing last weekend, cross country skiing coming up this weekend — it’s not like some stuff where there’s only a couple big ones each year that you can lose track of,” he said. “It’s an organization you can stay involved with on a weekly basis.”

While some of the smaller, more local activities remain similar to those offered through AOP in the past, there have been some changes made to the bigger trips.

“Over fall break, instead of a trip to the Black Hills, I led a trip with students to Yellowstone National Park,” Brown said. “During spring break, instead of a climbing trip to Arkansas, I am planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. This will be an incredible time of camping, hiking and exploring the public lands of the southwest.”

Brown said that budget-conscious students don’t need to worry about the costs of most of the programs.

Before Benning arrived on Augustana’s campus to take on his freshman year, he had yet to hear of AOP or the exciting activities the program offers.

“Ryan did a great job of getting tons of advertisements out, like first meetings and what the program was all about,” Benning said. “He hit the ground running right away this past fall.”

Brown, who enjoys the wilderness himself through fly fishing, backpacking, hiking and bow hunting, looks forward to facilitating all things outdoors with the AOP and what’s to come in the future.

“This summer, I am looking at offering AOP’s first summer programs,” Brown said. “I am planning a wilderness backpacking trip to Montana, several rock climbing, hiking and kayaking days locally, and possibly a whitewater rafting trip just after school gets out.”

The AOP will be offering ice skating at Tuthill Park on Friday at 6 p.m., cross country skiing at the Outdoor Campus on Saturday at 10 a.m. and rock climbing at the Central Church on Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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