The Beginnings of the Bowdoin Outing Club

hat head
Image Courtesy of Bowdoin Archives.

It is impossible to pinpoint the exact beginning of an Outing Club type group at Bowdoin. Many alumni who graduated as long ago as the 1930's have claimed that they either participated in, or were the first president of the Bowdoin Outing Club. It can be said with some certainty that student organizations dedicated to the exploration of the outdoors existed at Bowdoin well before the inception of the official Bowdoin Outing Club. There is nothing to suggest that these groups had faculty sponsorship or large followings. It is likely that there were several groups in existence prior to 1963 when John McKee became the first faculty advisor for the "outing club".

In the years that John advised the club there were less than 100 students involved and the club was run entirely by them. John helped with financing and went on some trips, but there was little organization and no formal leadership training. Funding for the club during this period came from the student activities, but was minimal. The club operated mainly below the college's radar, which was necessary because trips at this point generally consisted of 4-5 students, each with a six pack, and a canoe or a mountain slope. There much less concern for safety than exists today and sooner or later the college lawyers would have caught on. Jim Lentz, who arrived at Bowdoin in 1968 as the football coach saw the need for an official club.

building the cabin
Construction of the BOC cabin. During the late 1980s,
the BOC program expanded significantly.
Image Courtesy of Bowdoin Archives.

In 1983, the year before he left coaching, Jim Lentz presented the idea of an official club to the president of the college Roy Greason. It was decided that a club would be created incorporating the existing student run organization. Initially there was little support from the college, but when nearly three times the anticipated 100 students joined the club the College gave the new, official Bowdoin Outing Club a budget and a van. After about four years with an official Outing Club the college decided to hire a full time director. They went straight for Jim who had been exploring the Maine Outdoors since 1958.

After becoming the first director of the Bowdoin Outing Club Jim was faced with the task of pleasing students who were weary of having someone else taking charge. In the beginning Jim decided what trips to do, but gradually shifted responsibility on to the students for setting up programs. It quickly became apparent that there were not enough people to lead all the trips being planned. The goal was now to create a program that would prepare students to lead trips. The Chewonki Foundation was a tremendous influence with regard to leadership training. Other influences were the Dartmouth Outing Club, U. Maine and programs like NOLS.

By 1992, with the Bowdoin Outing Club up and running with large numbers of students involved, Jim Lentz was ready to retire. In 1991 he had contacted Mike Woodruff to apply for a position as the assistant director. In January of 1992 Mike took the job as Assistant Director. Late in '92 Jim officially resigned and Mike took over as the Director of the Bowdoin Outing Club. Several changes came along with the introduction of the new Director. Leadership training was formalized, the whitewater and sea kayaking program grew and Pre-Orientation trips were taken over by the BOC from Student Activities. More information on Pre-Orientation trips can be found in the Pre-Orientation section. One of the greatest accomplishments under Mike has been the construction of the Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center, which now acts as the logistical base for the Outing Club.

Mike Woodruff
Now the director of the Outing Club,
Mike Woodruff (with son, Finnegan),
navigates the Dead river.
Image Courtesy of Bowdoin Archives.

Under Mike's leadership the Bowdoin Outing Club has continued to grow in popularity. It is now the largest student organization on campus, but there are still goals for the club to accomplish. Mike has expressed a desire expand the diversity of the club by getting people not usually involved with the Outing Club out on trips. Frank Burroughs expressed a desire to see the trips offered by the outing club focus more on an understanding of nature, and not simply the high-adrenaline recreation that characterizes most of the trips currently offered. There is a desire to develop a closer relationship between the Outing Club and the environmental studies department. Frank expressed that he believes this will help to foster an alternative view of nature as something not only for recreation, but rather something to be admired and contemplated. Mike has expressed desire to develop the program in the direction of environmental conservation and service, this goal may also be accomplished by a closer relationship to the ES department.

white water
No longer just a motley crew of rag-tag river rats,
the BOC sends out dozens of
white water trips every semester.
Image Courtesy of Bowdoin Archives.

From four or five kids with six packs and canoes to the masses who now flock to the Schwartz Outdoor Leadership Center there has always been something that has drawn students to the Maine woods. Whether the goal has been to push personal limits or to contemplate the meanings of nature there has been and continues to be the necessity for an outdoor program at Bowdoin. With the help of several key figures such as Jim Lentz and Mike Woodruff the number of opportunities for students to experience Maine has and continues to increase. The future of the Outing Club looks bright. With a dedicated leader and many dedicated students behind him the popularity of the Outing Club is unlikely to decrease any time soon.