ROPEing Rice into the outdoors
Rice’s location in Houston is beneficial in a variety of ways. After all, we have access to entertainment, culture and research in a world-class city. However, we don’t have as much access to nature — a problem Rice Outdoor Programs and Education is trying to solve.
ROPE is a program offered by the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center. This program provides students, staff and faculty the opportunity to go on various outdoor trips each semester. ROPE trips range in skill level and duration and are aimed at people with various time commitments and outdoors experience. Students can also apply to be ROPE trip leaders, which entails planning and facilitating their own outdoor excursions.
According to Kris Cortez, the assistant director of Outdoor Programs at Rice, ROPE began as an outdoor club, growing into the program it is today when the new Rec building opened in 2009.
“Initially there was an outdoors club called [Rice Outdoors Club], and that was when [the Rec] was inside Tudor Gym,” Cortez said. “When the expansion or new building happened here at the Gibbs Recreation Center, ROPE became the primary program.”
Cortez said the program is important because it offers nature-related activities in the midst of an urban environment.
“We offer a substantial opportunity to get outside of Houston, away from the city,” Cortez said. “[ROPE trips allow people] to be physical, be active, think about nature and relax – all benefits that aren’t necessarily available on campus or even in Hermann Park.”
Cortez said that ROPE is unique because it allows students to participate in outdoor activities, even if they lack experience or equipment.
“We’re set up to provide [outdoors] experience without students having to bring anything to the program,” Cortez said. “Our explanation for students is ‘you need to show up with clothes, and we’ll provide everything else.’”
Cortez said that over the years, ROPE has grown significantly.
“When I arrived, we offered six to seven trips a semester,” Cortez said. “We did one large [trip] every spring break or winter. Now, we try to offer one to two trips every weekend, and then two to three longer trips every semester.”
However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a new set of obstacles for the program. According to Cortez, ROPE’s main goal over the next few years is to rebuild their programming.
“Two years of students graduating and no recruiting because COVID slowed down campus programming means that we now have ten students who are brand new to the program, learning to be leaders,” Cortez said. “Our goal is to rebuild their leadership strengths so they can confidently lead our trips for the next three years. Then we will recruit more and more students so that we can consistently offer trips, semester after semester.”
Sophia Figueroa, a trip leader, said she joined ROPE because she wanted to share her love for the outdoors with others.
“I discovered over quarantine that I really enjoy the outdoors – spending time outdoors and doing different activities like hiking and camping,” Figueroa, a Lovett College sophomore, said. “I decided to join [ROPE] as a [trip] leader because I want to explore more of Texas and do different activities, and also to help share that [experience] with other students at Rice.”
Figueroa said her first experience with ROPE was at the end of her freshman year, when she went on a ROPE-organized backpacking trip. She said the excursion motivated her to become a trip leader.
“I really enjoyed the people, and the aspect of hiking and camping with fellow Rice students,” Figueroa said. “I learned a lot about myself and my peers who were on the trip. [ROPE trips are] very informative if you haven’t done outdoors things before.”
Despite Figueroa’s enthusiasm about her ROPE peers, she said that ROPE trips could benefit from further undergraduates amongst their participants.
“I would love to see more undergraduates doing the trips,” Figueroa said. “[There’s] actually a surprising amount of graduate students that sign up for trips, which is great. But I think after the pandemic there’s been a need for more undergraduate participation.”
Evan Dunbar, a Duncan College junior, said he has enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people as a ROPE trip leader.
“I plan and lead trips with about one to two other leaders per trip, and then I lead about two or three of those every semester,” Dunbar said. “I’ve really enjoyed the interpersonal connections and being able to teach people about something that I love.”
Dunbar said he is particularly excited about a freshmen-only backpacking trip that ROPE will be hosting later this semester. He said he believes the trip will provide a welcome introduction to ROPE.
However, Dunbar said the program could be improved with further funding.
“[More funding would allow us to] have more leaders and be able to run more trips concurrently,” Dunbar said. “Right now, we’re limited. We have one vehicle to transport people in, so it makes it very difficult to run more than one thing at a time.”
According to Figueroa, ROPE is an important program because it allows people to explore outdoor activities that may seem inaccessible otherwise.
“I feel like if people aren’t given the opportunity to try new things such as camping for a weekend or going on a kayak trip, then it’ll be harder in the future to find things like that,” Figueroa said.
Hannah Grove, a Will Rice College freshman and new trip leader, said she echoes this sentiment about ROPE’s access to outdoor activities.
“We live in an area where there are significant barriers to access to outdoor recreation,” Grove said. “[ROPE makes] outdoor recreation accessible and affordable for people of all experience levels.”
Grove said her main goal as a trip leader this year is to make ROPE as welcoming and accessible as possible.
“I want everyone on campus to feel like they have a place at ROPE and are welcome on our trips,” Grove said, “especially those who haven’t had the ability to experience outdoor recreation before.”
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