College Outdoors (CO) canceled their spring break trips, as well as all trips for the remainder of the semester on March 13 due to coronavirus.
In an email sent on March 12, CO announced that they would be continuing to rent out gear to students and run trips with some modifications. At the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) meeting later that day, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Robin Holmes-Sullivan said that the trips would be canceled. CO sent out an additional email the evening of March 13 confirming the suspension of the trips.
Director of CO Joe Yuska emphasized health concerns in the March 13 email after consultation from administration.
“Although we share your disappointment, this is an important step in doing our part as responsible community members and not causing the spread of the virus to other parts of the state, or to more vulnerable populations than college students,” Yusca said via email.
CO did not know trips would be canceled when it was initially announced at the ASLC meeting. It was not until the next day that the policy was communicatedtold to CO. Yusca said that with the rapid changes that were occuring due to the increasing concern over the spread of COVID-19, he can see why there would be lapses in communication.
“There were so many decisions being made and communication was not always ideal,” Yusca said. “College Outdoors was probably not their top priority to get to, and I can understand that because it’s great for students to go out on spring break trips, but those were still a week away.”
Julie Goldberg ’22 was one of the students signed up for a spring break trip. She had paid to go on the “Hike and Kayak the Redwoods” trip at Redwood National Park in Northern California. The lodging trip was canceled a week before it was planned to leave.
Goldberg said she thought the trip would not be canceled due to the initial email sent out to students from CO and the extra precautions trip leaders were taking.
“It is unfortunate, but I was also sort of expecting it because everything else has been canceled,” Goldberg said. “A part of me also hoped that CO would pull through with the extra van and we would be in like the woods where we are far away from most other people so it is probably safer.”
Goldberg was referring to the van policy announced in the first CO email, which said the amount of transportation for trips would be canceled in order to increase space between participants. They also announced trip leaders would take the temperature of every participant before departure and that sanitation strategies such as washing hands, coughing etiquette and snacking methods would be emphasized.
In the March 12 email, Yusca said the risk to go on a CO trip would be low.
“Our trips go to remote locations where there is limited interaction with other people, so the risks associated with attending a trip should not be greater than the risks of being on campus and in Portland,” Yusca wrote. “Our top priority is to keep you, the students, as well as our community healthy and safe, and our plans may change as the situation evolves.”
Goldberg was looking forward to the trip as a way to socialize before going home.
“I really did hope that the trip would not be canceled, because they really hyped this up at the pre-trip meeting,” Goldberg said. “I really wanted to go and I thought this would be my last chance to really have fun with other people, since half the school would be leaving.”
Trip leader Echo Miller-Barns ’20 was going to lead one of the spring break trips as a raft guide. Miller-Barnes has conflicting feelings about the cancellations.
“I am disappointed just because it means I will not be able to interact with other students and get them into the outdoors to create a sense of community through those trips,” Miller-Barnes said. “I also understandard we have to travel in really close quarters for long periods of time when we drive places and that’s the perfect place for someone to get coronavirus.”
Qwynci Bowman ‘23 is a CO student coordinator. Though she was not yet scheduled for any upcoming trips, she would have helped organize some later in the semester. Bowman is more concerned about the trip leaders who are affected financially.
“I feel really badly about it because of all the people that can be impacted,” Bowman said. “For me, as a student coordinator, my job is not paid. However, there are trip leaders that it may not be their main source of income, but they do get money from leading trips.”
Another one of Bowman’s concerns include Wilderness First Responder (WFR) certification and New Student Trips (NSTs). WFR certification is scheduled for the second week of May and if canceled, student coordinations could not fulfill this certification to become trip leaders until January.
“WFR certification may or may not happen — that’s up in the air,” Bowman said. “It is a stepping stone for people trying to get to the place to go on trips for money and be trip leaders, so it’s really important.”
According to ASLC, summer programs including WFR certifications and plans in place for fall, such as NSTs, are still in place. This could change later, but concerns are more focused on current issues, such as student transportation. CO has been helping to fulfill this need by using their vans to transport students to the airport.
Yusca said that COVID-19 is a threat that needs to be taken seriously. He advises students to follow health guidelines and practice social distancing.
“My biggest advice to the Lewis & Clark community is to do everything to minimize the possibility that you will contract or spread the virus,” Yusca said.