Author: Emma Lodes
Living and learning while hidden in the concrete maze of Los Angeles, it is easy to forget that the world is not a never-ending city. L.A. may be a hotspot for pop culture and the arts, and we have access to museums, concerts, and sports events, but just outside the fringes of L.A.’s sprawling, gritty metropolis lies some of the world’s most celebrated natural beauty. Our Southern California location lends access to dramatic, remote beaches, sheer granite cliffs and waterfalls in Yosemite, spectacular desert sunsets and the strange, twisted rock formations unique to Joshua Tree National Park among countless others. However, both Occidental’s students and the Student Activities Center tend not to take advantage of the surrounding natural landscape.
Surely Occidental’s location draws students because of its proximity to L.A. rather than its proximity to wilderness areas. However, there must be at least a handful of students who came to California eager to experience the state’s wide range of natural settings, from the Pacific to the Redwoods to the 14-ers in the Sierras. We need to get out there and have those experiences, and encourage Occidental College to promote and even facilitate those experiences.
Travel distances should not stop anyone from seeing the outdoors. Los Angeles National Forest and Malibu Creek State Park are each 30 to 45 minutes away, roughly the time it takes to drive into Hollywood and find parking. Joshua Tree is only two and a half hours away, whereas Yosemite National Park, which tends to recede into the realms of the unreachable in our minds, is twice as far. The latter is almost an hour and a half closer than San Francisco to Occidental – an easy Spring Break getaway.
With so many wilderness gems surrounding us, why is there such a lack of promotion for the outdoors at Occidental College? Oxy’s “Happy Cats Hiking Club” or “HCHC” does a great job of bringing students outdoors, but is limited to local hiking, and has had trouble arranging transportation through the college. Hiking Club is interested in visiting national parks, but the College administration is unsupportive due to liability issues. The Student Activities Center (SAC) used to rent out camping equipment, but they have recently stopped due to damaged equipment. SAC should have the means to buy new gear for the college. Students pay a lot for access to the resources the college provides, so it is frustrating when we are unable to access certain resources, whether it’s transportation, gear, or even the ability to go on substantial trips through clubs. The SAC is hopeful that it will resume rentals second semester, but until then, students will have to rent equipment through camping equipment stores in the area. The best option is Arcadia’s REI; the store is only ten minutes away and rents out tents, stoves, sleeping bags and other standard equipment.
The “Oxy bubble” is real, and car-less students are inevitably subjected to the confinements of our isolated, albeit pretty campus. Getting off-campus and into the city is exciting and freeing, but urban exploration doesn’t cut it for everyone. Department Chair of Geology Professor James Sadd has taught for 20 years and does not recall a substantial outdoors program ever in existence. Whether or not an outdoors club of some sort has had a brief existence, his view speaks to the low enthusiasm around a possible prior club.
I hate to compare Occidental to the Claremont consortium, but I have to give some perspective. The consortium’s outdoors club, “On The Loose,” offers gear rentals and extensive trips including regular summit climbs in the 14-ers of the Sierra, and even trips to other Southwestern states, including backpacking in Utah’s canyon-riddled National Parks. The trips are supplemented with outdoor education by professors and speakers, and outdoor sports film festivals. Conversely, when I searched “outdoors” on the Occidental website the only hit was “OxyEngage.” My Occidental experience commenced with an “OxyExplores” camping trip, naively presuming that I would continue to have access to the outdoors through similar programs. The trip was fun, but unfortunately has been misleading.
Occidental should also provide outdoor education to supplement outdoor activities and recreation. Our densely urban setting may make outdoor education seem completely pointless, but there is an element of danger in labeling open spaces as irrelevant to life in a urban setting; with open spaces ostensibly inaccessible, it can be easy to inadvertently lock oneself in a concrete jungle and lose perspective. Our city location makes it all the more important that we’re aware of the outdoors.
Maybe Occidental students are content with what the college offers and don’t feel the call of the wild as much as I do. Maybe students don’t have the time, or are already exploring the outdoors on their own with personal equipment. Gauging the level of enthusiasm in the student body is the first step; an extensive outdoors program cannot be implemented without student support.
Emma Lodes is an undeclared first-year. She can be reached at [email protected]
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