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Opportunities to go 'WILD' abound
9/24/13

Mark McFadden, director of Alfred University’s (AU) Career and Development Center and head of the WILD (Wilderness, Immersion, Learning and Discovery) About Alfred Committee, says he frequently spends time in Alfred’s natural environment.

“I love the outdoors,” says McFadden. “Every free moment I have, I try to spend outside.”

That philosophy describes the thinking behind the WILD About Alfred Committee. The group was created after University Vice President for Student Affairs Kathy Woughter arranged a task force to explore AU’s past attempts to connect students to the outdoors and to find new ways to encourage AU community members to participate in outdoor activities, maintain area walking trails, and have fun outside in the area’s natural beauty.

“It’s a program to increase the engagement between students and the outdoor resources that we have in the immediate area and beyond,” emphasizes McFadden. “The idea is to promote opportunities for students to get outdoors.”

McFadden says WILD utilizes area outdoor venues such as the University-owned Equestrian Center and Foster Lake as well as near-by locales like Phillips Creek and Pine Wood creek trails to host activities.  At a Bergen Forum earlier this fall, McFadden presented a brief history of the program, outlining the events that led up to the formation of the committee and summarized what the committee would like to see happen in the coming years.

Planned WILD events this semester include:

  • Continuing Friday Night Hikes (6 p.m. on the first floor of the Powell Campus Center next to the mailroom; all are welcome): a three-mile hike every Friday that includes cleaning the trail, picking up garbage and building simple foot bridges that concludes with a bonfire and s’mores at Joel’s House residence hall on the upper campus level.  
  • Horse to Holler Hike (Saturday, Sept. 28): a seven-mile trail hike starting at the Equestrian Center to Pollywog Holler, a local eco-resort, in Belmont for wood-fired pizza and beverages. The hike will include an s’mores station, giveaways and door prizes. McFadden says between 80 and 150 students participated in the walk. McFadden 140 people participated in last year’s hike after 80 participated in the previous year.
  • Kayaking the Genesee River (Saturday, Oct.19): WILD is working to coordinate travel and kayaks for those interested in a kayaking trip from Canacadea to Fillmore. Transportation and kayak rental are expected to cost $35.
  • Fall Festival/Virtual Cornucopia at Foster Lake (Saturday, Nov. 16): featuring a bonfire, hay rides and lessons on geo-caching, orienteering, fly fishing, selecting the best hiking gear, wilderness first aid, plant identification and more.
  • Funky, Fiery, Final Friday Night Hike with Food and Fun “a.k.a. the F-Bomb Hike” (Friday, Dec. 6): the last Friday Night Hike through the snow with glow sticks illuminating the trail and concluding with a bonfire and snacks at Joel’s House.
  • And perhaps additional activities including floating a raft down the Genesee River and holding a whitewater rafting event at Letchworth State Park.

In previous years, WILD has also worked with other AU student programs and events such as the Zombie Apocalypse Run, Women in the Wilderness Day, a Woman’s Leadership Academy capstone project, and the 5k Color Run on Hot Dog Day last spring. 

McFadden hopes in the future AU can find a way to provide students with a way to earn outdoor certifications that allow them to lead outdoor activities.

“One of the missions within Student Affairs is wellness within the wild,” says McFadden. “I’d like to see this program have an outdoor leadership component to it,” he adds, suggesting a partnership with the (campus) Judson Leadership Center to provide outdoor programming that requires leadership skills.

McFadden says participants in WILD events indicate they enjoy the activities and hope they continue. He says he hopes students discover the outdoors’ natural beauty in some way.

“We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere, wonderfully located in a bucolic setting,” says McFadden. “Students can come here and not necessarily be aware of those resources. We just want them to know they’re there. If they take advantage of them through our program, fantastic.  If they take advantage of them on their own, also fantastic.”