How to Start an Outdoors Club at Your School
In a school outdoor program, students can come together and explore passions and curiosities about outdoor activities. When I started an Outdoors Club at my high school, the mission was to educate and provide outdoor opportunities for students in our community. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
by Waverley Woodley
In a school outdoor program, students can come together and explore passions and curiosities about outdoor activities. When I started an outdoors club at my high school, the mission was to educate and provide outdoor opportunities for students in our community. Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.
Students at my high school had always expressed interest in participating in outdoor activities. While the existing trips during spring break and summer often included outdoor activities, the community lacked a student-organized club focused on exploring the outdoors. Various outdoor-oriented clubs have come and gone in past years, but as the faculty and students who lead them graduate or move on, they tend to disappear without a strong support from younger students.
In my junior year, I decided it was time to start an outdoors club, as nothing of the sort had existed during my time in high school. I wanted to create a space for students from different grades to come together and share their passions or explore curiosities about outdoor activities. I envisioned weekend hiking trips, skill acquisitions, and a focus on basic preparedness and outdoor ethics -- a way to educate and provide outdoor opportunities for students in our community.
If you're trying to start your own club, maintain an open-minded approach to your mission, allowing participants to influence the club’s direction. Clubs can be focused around one sport, or involve a variety of outdoor activities. While my club focused on hiking, we pursued opportunities as they arose, and aspired to other kinds of adventures, like a sea kayaking and backpacking trip.
Reach out to students, faculty and your administration
An important first step in developing a new club is engaging a small group of students interested in becoming active members and participating in trips. Next, find a faculty member who is experienced in the outdoors and has availability and resources to assist the club. Create and submit a club mission statement to the school with information about what you hope to accomplish and what the club will entail. Once your new club is approved, develop a system for planning transportation. This might involve meeting with a school transportation director, determining participant costs, or holding a fundraiser if funding is needed. This will help future planning processes run smoothly, as you’ll begin to create a schedule by which dates, group sizes, and locations need to be decided.
Spread the word
We reserved a booth at our school’s club fair and had an email-list signup sheet, where we began to gather members. I made a slideshow with my pictures from hiking and backpacking trips, and we discussed our plans for an Outdoors Club snowshoeing trip in the winter.
Before our first club meeting, I sent out an all-school email with the details and made an announcement at an assembly. When your club meets, invite students in nearby common areas to join the group. We kept the door open and tried to create an open, inclusive environment. We used part of our annual budget to design t-shirts to improve our club advertising around the school.
Often, busy high school students can be easily lured into a lunchtime meeting with promises of trail mix and plentiful snacks. We always varied the content and style of our monthly meetings: mixing up viewings of our favorite ski movies, avalanche awareness presentations, student presentations on volunteer trail work, and discussions on outdoor ethics. We liked to share stories, recommend trails, and disclose our best original gorp recipes.
It’s was also important that our members received information and resources to plan their own adventures. We taught them about the Ten Essentials, trail etiquette, Leave No Trace, and how to use Washington Trails Association’s Hiking Guide to find cool trails and read recent trip reports.
Choose trails wisely
In addition to thinking about mileage, elevation gain, and overall difficulty of the hike and capability of participants, location is important in planning hikes. For our first few trips, we opted to venture around 50 miles away (for us, that meant Snoqualmie Pass), keeping driving times to around an hour. Use the WTA Hiking Guide and select your region and sub-region to find trails near you. Read recent trip reports to learn about snow and trail conditions.
We needed to choose trails with well-maintained driving access if we were taking a large bus, and kept our sign-up sheets capped if hiking in an area with limitations on group size. It's a good idea to check what type of permit/pass your vehicle will need if parking at the trailhead. For groups on a tighter schedule, check out hikes 30 minutes from Seattle and hikes 30 minutes from Bellingham.
My school had a gear room where miscellaneous gear is kept for all of the school trips. Outdoors Club had access to the gear and borrowed snowshoes for all participants on our winter snowshoeing trip in the Cascades.
If students don’t have items necessary for a trip, try renting gear, borrowing from a group like WTA's Outdoor Leadership Training Program or holding a gear drive.
Lead discussions before, during, and after a trip
Required pre-trip meetings include reminders about sustainable hiking practices, gear and layering examples, and an overview of logistics. It’s also a great opportunity to get participants together before the trip to address any questions that may arise.
Permission forms are sent home with our students and must be signed by parents before participation is allowed. If there are any anxieties or concerns among parents, direct them to the club's faculty advisor and provide them with the outing’s logistical information, or consider hosting a parent information night.
During a hike, set a good example. Pick up trash you find along the trail and remind the group about Leave No Trace principles and the importance of packing everything out. Communicate to the group when hikers are passing and yield to other parties.
The bus ride back home is a great opportunity to lead a quick trip debrief, asking students about their trip highlights and hearing feedback that could be useful in future planning.
Pass on the trekking pole
As I prepared to graduate, I’ve talked to younger Outdoors Club members who had been active participants and were interested in leading the club next year. We’ve discussed the trip planning process, email and engagement strategies, and brainstormed ideas for club expansion next year.
It’s important to have a club that encompasses all grades so the club can continue with strong leadership every year.