Is WCU really top adventure school?

WCU second year in a row wins the best outdoor school. Photo by Billy Simpson.

WCU second year in a row wins the best outdoor school. Photo by Billy Simpson.

Story co-written with Billy Simpson. 

For the past two years Western Carolina University has been named the top adventure school in the Southeast by the Blue Ridge Outdoor Magazine.

The winner was decided through an online poll and whoever received the most votes won. Other schools WCU competed against included Virginia Tech, Brevard College, The University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Appalachian State University.

“What makes WCU unique is the area,” says WCU professor Robert Tholkes. “We have National Parks, National Forests, the Nantahala Outdoor Center, the Blue Ridge Parkway. We have a wide variety of activities for people to participate in.”

Base Camp Cullowhee offers a nice variety of outdoor activities for students to engage in. WCU’s Associate Director of Outdoor Programs, Josh Whitmore said a lot of schools have organizations similar to Base Camp Cullowhee “but what sets us apart is that we run more people through the trips than anybody our size. For our 10,000 students we see more frequency in visitation on our trips than other schools.”

Parks and Recreation professor Maurice Phipps says “I would say we won because we had the strongest allegiance. Our current students and alumni voted more than the competitors. That is why we won.”

See video segment of the story. 

“Nobody came here and said let me look at what your programs are like. Nobody said let me look at how many kayaks you have or do you have trails? Nobody did anything like that. They just went by how many people voted. Do we truly have better programming here than other colleges? That’s not been measured. The only thing we can say is that we got more people to vote which is a good thing. It shows that we have a stronger allegiance by far because we won two years in a row” Phipps said.

It is definitely hard to measure whether or not Western truly is the top adventure school in the Southeast. If you look at several of the other schools that were in the competition they each have great outdoor programs to offer their students. Brevard College has a variety of different activities to offer their students. Brevard is nationally recognized as “The Cycling Capitol of the South” and Transylvania County has the highest concentration of waterfalls in North America. It is a great place to go to college if you are an outdoor enthusiast.

Montreat College, which came in second in the poll offers kayaking, canoeing and also rock climbing classes.

Appalachian State University offers challenge courses such as high and low rope courses. This is something that Western actually does not offer.

So is WCU really the top adventure school?

“If you are specifically looking at the poll that was done by the Blue Ridge Outdoor magazine it is kind of misleading because you vote for yourself. If you look at some of the other schools they all have excellent outdoor programs but having a Parks and Recreation Management major as well as our outdoor recreation activities and Base Camp Cullowhee definitely helps us get that vote,” Tholkes said.

“Certainly there are other places that have similar resources available,” said Whitmore. “I don’t think anywhere has the same amount of stoke about it right now as we do though and that’s pretty cool.”


Editors note: Josh Whitmore, is a former WCU’s Associate Director of Outdoor Programs. At the time when the story was written he was the current director.