MISSOULA –The Wilderness Institute and Outdoor Program at the University of Montana launched a new Freshman Wilderness Experience Program on Aug. 16.
Seventy freshmen arrived from all over the country to participate in the new wilderness-based program. Students spend four days in various wilderness areas throughout western Montana, either backpacking or rafting. Areas include the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness, the Mission Mountains Wilderness, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Yellowstone River. One trip is in partnership with the Montana Wilderness Association and gives students the opportunity to participate in a Continental Divide Trail service project. UM students are leading all the trips.
“Watching students come to UM and immediately integrate with each other to work toward a common goal of launching an expedition illustrates the necessity for these programs at our University,” said Rachel James, assistant director at UM’s Wilderness Institute.
“We are laying the groundwork for a fantastic program that can be fully supported by the whole University community in the future,” said Elizabeth Fricke, Outdoor Program manager.
In order to keep participation costs low for students, the College of Forestry and Conservation has supported the program this year, but funding for the program’s future is uncertain.
Wilderness Institute Director Natalie Dawson hopes this program not only fosters a strong community of learning across UM, but also supports the University’s continuing efforts to increase recruitment and retention through student connections with one another, mentorships with older students and a strong sense of place that can be developed by spending time in the landscapes surrounding Missoula.
“This program allows th
e opportunity for new UM students to experience the wild landscapes that attracted many of them to this place,” Dawson said. “For a few days before they begin their University education, they are free to roam.”
Students will return from their wilderness trips on Wednesday, Aug. 20, for a final celebration dinner and storytelling event. The faculty and staff supporting the program are excited to watch it grow and make it available to even more students in the future.
Photo cutline: UM students howl with excitement on Trilobite Ridge in the Bob Marshall Wilderness as part of their Freshman Wilderness Experience.