Florence Williams, the author of The Nature Fix, said, “Go outside, often, sometimes in wild places. Bring friends or not. Breathe.” This saying encompasses a program called Middle Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits or MTOP for short. It was created through Middle Tennessee State University and established with the goal to get students involved in building relationships and their outdoor skills at the same time. The outdoor pursuits coordinator, Blake Osborn claims he has the “funnest job ever,” as he gets to orchestrate more than forty guided trips each year for students that teach them outdoor skills, support their physical and mental wellness, and gives them leadership opportunities.
With the majority of people preoccupied with advancements in technology, the exploration and adventures of the outdoors aren’t happening as frequently anymore. Middle Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits has created team-building programs that instill skills for survival and enjoyment of nature. They provide all necessary equipment and transportation for students for numerous activities like hiking, backpacking, camping, biking, rock climbing, and various water sports. Each activity requires certain equipment, which MTOP supplies and even rents out to MTSU students and the public community at a discounted rate. As well, anyone can also reserve equipment ahead of time and visit the rental store for free consulting and recommendations from the MTOP staff. The staff is very knowledgeable when it comes to locations and the best equipment needed for your trip. They thoroughly enjoy helping customers plan their own trips and will offer their recommendations and ideas for free. Outside groups like ministries, churches, public schools, and college clubs or sororities are welcome to create custom private trips with the MTOP guides and use their equipment. Each MTOP trip is extremely affordable, averaging around $20, but there are several trips that are free as well. Whether you are a novice where nature is concerned or more advanced in your skills, MTOP has the perfect trip planned for you. Blake, himself assures students that, “These trips are guided by trained professionals and planned with the beginner in mind.” At MTSU, there is also an indoor rock climbing wall that is thirty-four feet tall and free for all students to enjoy. Students who enjoy rock climbing might also want to participate in the events MTOP holds at Climb Murfreesboro on occasion. A very recent development in MTOP has been the addition of fishing to the roster of outdoor sports. College-age students are actually the lowest demographic of fishing license holders in Tennessee making fishing not a popular sport amongst young adults. That being said, there were students seeking to learn more about fishing and would request it be added to the program often. Thanks to a generous grant, tons of high quality gear were able to be purchased and new fishing professionals were hired. Now as of
this year, fishing is officially a part of MTOP and more students can get involved in the sport than before. Students can also purchase fishing licenses through MTOP. The goal is to get more college-age students interested in fishing and teach them how without using motorboats.
With the hustle and bustle of life, most young adults slack when it comes to caring for their overall health and wellness. Physical and mental health takes a backseat, while they attempt to juggle full-time schedules and the stress of everyday life. With numbers of mental illness and suicides skyrocketing, it is imperative that mental health is being prioritized. Studies have shown that nature and outdoor activity are extremely beneficial to not only physical health, but mental health as well. Day and overnight trips for hiking, canoeing, kayaking, white water rafting, and camping give students the opportunity to destress from demanding schedules and technology. Taking time to relax in the fresh air with people their age and in places their phones can’t function, is the exact reset some college students desperately need. Science has proven that nature has incredible healing advantages and not nearly enough people are reaping the benefits. MTOP is working with the counseling and health centers at MTSU in order to essentially prescribe nature and exercise for students. Considering there are some men and women, who do not enjoy the gym let alone physical activity, outdoor recreation is a wonderful alternative. While college and education are very serious things, including time for fun and interactive activities that benefit your overall well-being into your schedule are important in order to avoid burnout.
From freshmen to seniors, all college students can benefit from MTOP and all the activities they offer. Students, who enjoy them are welcome to undergo training to become a professional guide for the trips. Becoming a guide teaches the student's leadership skills and personal development skills required for the workforce and a successful career. They will also earn first aid and medical certifications in case of emergencies. However, thankfully, even after hundreds of trips, there has never been a case of emergency or a need for desperate medical attention. After training, students will get the chance to lead their own trips and receive payment for their position in leadership. Working at MTOP is a great alternative to a part-time job for lots of students since it is more fun, socially and physically interactive, and not as demanding as other jobs. A college graduate and previous MTOP leader was hired for her dream job as a nurse at Vanderbilt in the ICU after graduation. She attributed her success and preparation for the workforce to her time at MTOP. Another advantage of this program is the social aspect since it gives students of different ages and backgrounds the opportunity to mingle in a relaxed and fun environment. Students can converse and share ideas for their class projects or circumstances happening in their own personal lives. Interestingly, there have been many cases over the years of strong friendships and even marriages being cultivated thanks to
MTOP. There are even some trips specifically for incoming freshmen in order for them to make connections and feel less overwhelmed by the new environment at the MTSU campus. Actually, most colleges do not offer outdoor recreation programs, in fact, there are only around five colleges in the country that offer something even remotely similar to MTOP. This makes MTSU and MTOP incredibly unique and is something new enrollees or even current ones should take advantage of as soon as possible.
As we enter summer, make a conscious decision to spend time outside in the great outdoors, breathe fresh air, touch the natural earth, and create new friendship bonds. Whether you are a reoccurring college student or an incoming freshman, Middle Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits is the perfect program for you to grow in your knowledge and skills of the outdoors, support both your physical and mental health, create new relationships, and gain leadership and character development skills. Blake encourages students to try at least one outdoor recreation trip because when you join MTOP, you not only become a member, but you become a part of a healthy community.
For more information about Middle Tennessee Outdoor Pursuits, visit their website at mtsu.edu or contact Blake, the coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org