After spending a year and a half in various stages of lockdown and quarantine, junior Charles Blanton missed connecting with people outdoors.
In January, Blanton returned to Chapel Hill from a semester off on a ranch in Colorado and pitched an idea for a club to his roommates. Expecting them to shoot him down, Blanton said he was surprised when they fully supported his goal to create an outdoors club at UNC.
Blanton has since started the Carolina Outing Club, a new student organization that works to make the outdoors an exciting and accessible experience for UNC students.
“I think the community you make in an outdoor setting is unlike any other,” Blanton said. “It’s more genuine; it’s more personal. So, I think in these past 18 months of being online, now is the time to reconnect in person.”
Blanton’s club will sponsor both local and statewide outings, as well as a series of workshops designed to teach students basic outdoor skills, such as setting up a tent or building a fire.
Facilitating these trips and workshops will be a group of expedition staffers, or 'e-staffers,' with experience in a number of different activities, such as skiing, kayaking, backpacking, trail-running and even fly-fishing.
Ellie Werthman, a junior e-staffer, said she is interested in leading many expeditions so that members can participate as their schedules and interests allow.
She also proposed the idea of a book club that focuses on stories about people in nature or cool outdoor adventures.
“It’s important to create a variety of different adventures that people can be a part of, so if someone can’t commit a full weekend, it’s not a deterrent to being a part of the club,” Werthman said. “Like if you only have a day to give, then that’s awesome — we’d love to do a day trip.”
One of Blanton's goals for Carolina Outing Club is to create an environment that is both educational and relaxing while encouraging outside activity.
Ben Logel, a sophomore and fellow e-staffer, said the club was a good outlet for stress for both him and other UNC students.
“I think in a place like Carolina where there are so many students and they’re so academically motivated, it can be very stressful,” Logel said. “Going outside is something so simple and easy and accessible that people don’t even realize how many opportunities there are.”
Logel said that the format of the club, which is very hands-on and student-led, was one of the things that first inspired him to join.
Werthman and Logel also emphasized the importance of accessibility and flexibility within the club.
“I think the most important job for an e-staffer is to make sure that you make it as accessible to everyone, so someone who’s never been camping before can feel like they can come camping and have a good time and not be stressed out,” Logel said.
One of the aspects that Werthman most appreciates about the outdoors is its inclusivity.
“I think that being outdoors with other people is such a unique experience to have and to share,” Werthman said. “There’s really no prerequisite for a certain type of person who is like an outdoors person; you really get a diverse group of people, which I think is really good for the UNC community.”
Blanton said he hopes to start club meetings by mid-September — pending funding. He's excited by the number of people who have already reached out to him.
More about the Carolina Outing Club can be found on their Instagram page, @carolinaoutingclub.
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