ROPEing Rice into the outside

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Vivian Lang / Drescher

By Madison Barendse 09/27/22 22:59

Rice’s Houston location is beneficial in a number of ways. After all, we have access to entertainment, culture and research in a world-class city. However, we don’t have as much access to nature—a problem Rice Outdoor Programs and Education is trying to solve.

ROPE is a program offered by the Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation and Wellness Center. This program offers students, staff, and faculty the opportunity to undertake a variety of outdoor excursions each semester. ROPE trips vary in difficulty and duration and are aimed at people with different time commitments and outdoor experience. Students can also apply to be a ROPE tour guide, which involves planning and running their own outdoor excursions.

According to Kris Cortez, associate director of outdoor programs at Rice, ROPE began as an outdoor club and grew into the program it is today when the new Rec building opened in 2009.

“Initially, an outdoor club called [Rice Outdoors Club]and that was when [the Rec] was at the Tudor Gym,” Cortez said. “When the expansion or new construction took place here at Gibbs Recreation Center, ROPE became the main program.”

Cortez said the program is important because it offers nature-related activities in the midst of an urban environment.

“We offer a significant opportunity to get out of Houston, away from the city,” Cortez said. “[ROPE trips allow people] being physical, being active, thinking about nature and relaxing – all benefits that are not necessarily available on campus or even in Hermann Park.”

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Cortez said ROPE is unique because it allows students to participate in outdoor activities even if they lack experience or equipment.

“We are set up to deliver [outdoors] Experience without students having to bring anything to the program,” Cortez said. “Our explanation to the students is, ‘You have to show up with your clothes and we’ll take care of the rest.'”

Cortez said that ROPE has grown significantly over the years.

“When I first arrived, we were offering six to seven rides a semester,” Cortez said. “We made a big one [trip] every spring break or winter. Now we try to offer one to two trips every weekend, and then two to three longer trips every semester.”

However, the COVID-19 pandemic presented the program with new obstacles. According to Cortez, ROPE’s main goal over the next few years is to rebuild their program.

“Two years of students graduating and no recruitment because COVID has slowed campus programming means we now have 10 students brand new to the program learning to be leaders,” Cortez said. “Our goal is to rebuild their leadership so they can confidently lead our trips over the next three years. Then we will recruit more and more students so that we can consistently offer trips semester after semester.”

Sophia Figueroa, a tour guide, said she joined ROPE because she wanted to share her love of nature with others.

“I discovered during quarantine that I really enjoy the outdoors — spending time outdoors and doing various activities like hiking and camping,” said Figueroa, a Lovett College student. “I have decided to take part [ROPE] As a [trip] Leader because I want to explore more of Texas and do different activities and also want to help share this [experience] with other Rice students.”

Figueroa said her first experience with ROPE was at the end of her freshman year when she took part in a backpacking trip organized by ROPE. She said the excursion motivated her to become a tour guide.

“I really enjoyed the people and the aspect of hiking and camping with other Rice students,” Figueroa said. “I learned a lot about myself and my colleagues who were on the trip. [ROPE trips are] very informative if you’ve never done things outdoors before.”

Despite Figueroa’s enthusiasm for her ROPE colleagues, she said ROPE trips could benefit from having more students among her participants.

“I would like to see more students doing the trips,” Figueroa said. “[There’s] In fact, a surprising number of graduate students sign up for travel, which is great. But I think more student participation was needed after the pandemic.”

Evan Dunbar, a junior at Duncan College, said he enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people as a ROPE tour guide.

“I plan and lead trips with about one to two other leaders per trip, and then I lead about two or three of them each semester,” Dunbar said. “I really enjoyed the interpersonal connections and the opportunity to teach people about something I love.”

Dunbar said he’s particularly excited about a freshman-only backpacking trip that ROPE will host later this semester. He believes the trip will be a welcome introduction to ROPE.

However, Dunbar said the program could be improved with more funding.

“[More funding would allow us to] have more executives and be able to do more trips at the same time,” Dunbar said. “Right now we are limited. We have a vehicle to transport people, so it’s very difficult to drive more than one thing at a time.”

According to Figueroa, ROPE is an important program because it enables people to explore outdoor activities that otherwise seem unattainable.

“I have a feeling that if people don’t have the opportunity to try new things like camping for a weekend or kayaking, it’s going to be harder to find things like this in the future,” Figueroa said.

Hannah Grove, a freshman at Will Rice College and new tour guide, said she shares this sentiment about ROPE’s approach to outdoor activities.

“We live in an area where there are significant barriers to accessing outdoor recreation,” Grove said. “[ROPE makes] Outdoor recreation accessible and affordable for people of all skill levels.”

Grove said her main goal as a tour guide this year is to make ROPE as welcoming and accessible as possible.

“I want everyone on campus to feel like they have a place at ROPE and to be welcome in our travels,” Grove said, “especially those who have never had the opportunity to experience outdoor recreation.”