A student life master plan developed early in the tenure of President Larry Stimpert featured a key element: the creation of a high adventure program that would capitalize on Hampden-Sydney’s rural location and beautiful campus—not to mention the wealth of outdoor opportunities nearby.
Today, under the leadership of Director of High Adventure Scott Schmolesky, a former outdoor guide and educator, this vision is increasingly taking shape as Hampden-Sydney continues to expand its unique opportunities for students to challenge themselves, develop new skills, and build camaraderie with classmates in the great outdoors. Since joining the College in 2017, Schmolesky has spearheaded efforts to construct high- and low-ropes courses that have served as the setting for team-building activities and unique classes like The Physics of Rock Climbing; overhauled the disc golf course; and led students on countless off-campus expeditions.
Jack Garst ’21 is one of many students who have benefitted from the High Adventure Program. Having worked ropes courses at summer camps in high school, Jack quickly found his place on the College’s ropes course, which he has been helping run since his freshman year.
“I feel at home 45 feet in the air,” he says. “There was a week towards the end of my sophomore year where I was very stressed and unable to concentrate. I naturally gravitated towards the ropes course and found myself at the top of the zip line platform. I had my books with me, and I could finally concentrate because I was where I felt most comfortable. It’s sort of become my library since then.”
And in a semester where traditional fall social activities were cancelled due to COVID-19, more students than ever have been taking advantage of the High Adventure Program. From disc golf tournaments across the Hill, kayaking tours on the Appomattox Blueway, and hikes in nearby state parks, outdoor opportunities have enabled students to remain social, active, and six feet apart.
“We’ve seen a lot more guys out on the disc golf course, on our kayak outings, and on the hiking trails,” Schmolesky says, explaining the surge of interest he’s seen in the High Adventure Program this fall. “They have more free time because there isn’t as much going on right now, and the programs we provide are outdoors, safe, and naturally socially distanced.”
Even Tiger athletes are joining in on the fun. “We’ve been wanting to get the student-athletes out to the ropes courses to train for a long time,” Schmolesky says. “But with their seasons being so hectic, they didn’t have the time before.”
“I think having the athletes come out on the ropes course this semester was a great way for coaches to change up their training during this extended pre-season,” Jack adds. “But it also provided a bit of competition, both internally if it was something they hadn’t done before and in the good-natured rivalry among team members, to keep them sharp for when their seasons resume.”
With interest in the program growing, Schmolesky is looking to the future as he designs and implements new offerings such as expanding the existing nine-hole disc golf course to 18 holes. Another exciting fresh initiative is a wilderness orientation program launching in the fall of 2021 that is geared toward incoming freshmen but open to all students. Built around several three-day excursion options, the program will feature outdoor adventures—paddling, biking, hiking—and team-building activities as a way to introduce students to the College and their classmates ahead of the traditional orientation.
With an incredible 1,300-acre campus, passionate students, and an enthusiastic program director, Hampden-Sydney has all the necessary ingredients to continue expanding the boundaries of the “atmosphere of sound learning” on the Hill—and beyond.