Accessibility is one of the values that make up the mission of SUU Outdoors. According to their website, they “are an inclusive culture, striving to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to experience the outdoors in a meaningful way.”
As the “University of the Parks,” SUU has dedicated resources and staff to help students get outside. SUU Outdoors Coordinator Baylee Howe is one of these employees. She leads LEAP, a program that aims to open up the outdoors to anyone who wants to explore.
LEAP stands for local events, activities and programming and is run by SUU Outdoors under the department of recreation and wellness. Its goal is to “get more students involved and get them learning about different activities that they can do,” according to Howe.
Prior to the creation of LEAP, most SUU Outdoors activities were held on weekends through the Trips and Adventures program. Frequently far away from campus in southern Utah’s backcountry, these grand adventures often cost money and time that many students weren’t able to sacrifice. These trips require significant planning and sign-ups in advance, typically with a limited amount of space.
Leaders in SUU’s department of recreation and wellness decided to hire someone to lead a series of more accessible activities during the week, noticing that there were few affordable opportunities for students to be involved with SUU Outdoors. Howe was hired specifically to spearhead the program when it began in the fall of 2021.
“I told myself when I started college that I would try something new and get outside of my comfort zone, and that’s what I did,” said Howe. It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that Howe became interested in the outdoors, where she found her love for hiking on Idaho trails with a friend and her dog.
While working and attending classes in physical education at the College of Southern Idaho, Howe helped to run their budding outdoors program and built a challenge course similar to the one she now oversees here at SUU, located west of the Eccles Coliseum.
After graduating with her bachelor’s in recreation management, she spent time working for Undercanvas, which Howe described as a “glamping company.” There, she was an experience coordinator, planning activities for guests in Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon until she was promoted to the manager of their Zion location.
Although Howe excelled in her prior jobs, she always knew she wanted to end up working for a university after her time spent at the College of Southern Idaho and Brigham Young University-Idaho. Working with students and being in an environment full of learning have appealed to Howe since she was a student.
Now a graduate student in the interdisciplinary studies program here at SUU, Howe has made it her mission to share what she knows, help students develop the skills they need and introduce them to a community of adventurers like herself. Her favorite part of her job is getting to know students and lead within the community formed by the outdoors program.
“It’s essentially just a program to get students to come try new activities and meet new people,” Howe explained. In making weekly activities accessible to students who may not otherwise try to get outside, LEAP opens doors to a whole new world of adventure. In her eyes, the program strives “not just to attract the people who love outdoors things, but to attract everyone — give them something new to try.”
LEAP includes weekly events held in the “front country.” “We usually keep our activities pretty centralized around campus,” said Howe. These activities include hikes, slacklining, wallyball, mountain biking, climbing clinics, rappel lessons and the lectures by way of the Outdoor Education Series.
The J. L. Sorenson Physical Education Building houses the SUU Outdoors climbing wall and rappel station, both of which are managed by this program. Other activities are held on or around campus or at Basecamp in the Sharwan Smith Student Center.
The OES is held on Thursdays twice per month at Basecamp. These educational lectures from community members, faculty and students started as a class designed for outdoor recreation and parks tourism majors. Once the class ended, student interest created a demand for the series to continue, and it was taken over by LEAP.
This year, speakers included a student who interned in the National Parks Service, a professor who dabbles in songwriting and even Howe herself, who, along with her husband, shared about their experience hiking to Everest Base Camp.
Other than LEAP, Howe shares responsibilities in other SUU Outdoors programs, managing the climbing wall, overseeing basecamp employees and rentals and attending backcountry trips as a guide. Although her main focus is LEAP, Howe is grateful for the chance to learn new skills while working with the outdoors center.
LEAP has spent its first two years developing itself into a staple of SUU student life. The students who attend these events have the chance to learn, form friendships and explore the Cedar City area with a community of like-minded adventurers. As LEAP continues to grow and to offer more accessible activities, students can be certain they have the opportunity to get outside with SUU Outdoors.
Story by: Lily Brunson
Photos courtesy of SUU Outdoors
This article was originally published in the April 2023 edition of the University Journal.