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Wisconsin Basecamp offers wilderness experience for new students

May 15, 2008 By Bobbi Jo Snethen

Incoming freshmen and transfer students are invited to participate in Wisconsin Basecamp, a five-day wilderness excursion preceding students’ first semester at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  

In its second year, Wisconsin Basecamp has more than doubled in the number of participants since last summer. The program was started by UW–Madison Hoofers members Nathan Williams and Finn Ryan, who modeled it after an outdoor orientation trip practiced at nearly 300 campuses across the nation.  

Ryan and Williams worked with Wisconsin Hoofers, Adventure Leadership Programs (ALPs) and UW–Madison’s Orientation and New Student Programs to devise a trip agenda. Each trip consists of 10 students and two base leaders certified in wilderness first aid. This July, approximately 50 students will head north to the Wisconsin River and Devil’s Lake State Park following a day of canoe lessons on Lake Mendota and team-building activities through ALPs.

Williams emphasizes that students do not need to be outdoor savvy to enjoy the Basecamp experience.

"Some of the students have never been camping and it’s not like you need to be a wilderness expert to go on these trips," says Williams. "The program provides all of the gear and equipment necessary for camping."

One of last year’s base leaders, Emily Heim, a UW–Madison senior studying biological aspects of conservation and geography, wishes she would have had the opportunity to find a social network prior to her first year away from home.

"I think it would have helped me meet a group of people with similar interests and to make the campus seem a bit smaller, so I was really excited to do that for incoming freshmen," says Heim, who regularly spends time with freshman students she met last summer.

Heim also erases any skepticism that the trip is merely about ice-breakers.

"It’s not like you go in and say ‘Hi, my name’s Emily and I like elephants’; it was really effective and a fabulous way to find yourself and meet friends," says Heim, who once guided a monthlong canoe voyage in Canada through a former employer.

Participants are challenged with a low-ropes course and bond over similar experiences they endure as new students on a large, unfamiliar campus.  During the following school year, Basecamp members are invited to attend multiple events.

"We do a reunion in September, plan a service day at the Arboretum in December and then we have an end-of-the-year cookout in order to keep in touch if students haven’t done so already," says Williams.

Basecamp trips are entirely student-funded and cost approximately $300 per person. Ryan and Williams continue to recruit new base leaders and trip-goers but believe the program is far from reaching its full potential.

"We are trying to find a good home for the program, that is, finding a consistent funding source," says Williams, whose time spent coordinating the trip is completely voluntary. "We hope to get at least a couple hundred students to participate in the future but continue on making the current trips a success."

For more information, visit the Web site and send a message to Williams or Ryan.