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After being deemed too risky, Penn State Outing Club can now head back outside

A hiker in Shingletown Gap in 2011.
A hiker in Shingletown Gap in 2011. Centre Daily Times, file

Last spring, Penn State announced that three student clubs, including the 98-year-old Outing Club, were losing recognition due to “an unacceptable amount of risk.” PSOC planned to continue meeting as a special interest organization, but it wouldn’t be able to organize or run its own trips.

However, through conversations with the administration, PSOC is able to lead day hikes this semester.

“Currently, the Outing Club can lead hikes on marked trails during daylight hours within a 50-mile radius from campus,” Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in an email. “... This decision was made to allow the organization to plan some initial hikes for the semester, while conversations are continuing to determine parameters for the organization’s activities. Penn State understands that the leaders of the Outing Club have experience leading day hikes and we remain confident in their ability to do so.”

The club had been doing student-led backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, hiking and trail maintenance trips for decades before the university’s decision a few months ago.

In the spring, Campus Recreation, a division of Student Affairs, reviewed all of its supported organizations, including 76 sport and the three outdoor recreation student orgs, PSOC, Nittany Grotto Caving Club and Nittany Divers SCUBA Club, as previously reported. Changes were recommended to 20 registered student organizations, including the three that lost recognition.

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The PSOC officers said in an email that they’ve been working hard to create opportunities for students to get outside and to educate their members about all the opportunities available to them.

In the first two weekends of the semester, they said they got almost 70 people out to the woods.

“We hope to continue to provide a means for students to overcome the barriers to access the outdoors and create a welcoming community for all students who have an interest in exploring our wonderful natural world,” the PSOC officers said.

The officers also said that they’ve been discussing with administrators the future of overnight backpacking trips. They say they’re also looking at what types of trainings they can offer to their members in order to manage the group’s risk and provide a level of student safety that the university is comfortable with.

“Penn State continues to work with students, faculty, staff and others to identify opportunities for student leadership and community building among outdoor enthusiasts, which must take into consideration appropriate safeguards for the safety and wellbeing of participants,” Powers said. “With those aims in mind, additional discussions are ongoing about possibly expanding the parameters the student organization has been given for its activities.”

Members of Nittany Grotto Caving Club Paul Winter and Jay Broderick talk about why they enjoy caving and their disappointment for the future with Penn State announcing they will not recognize the club due to a risk assessment.

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