They trekked and climbed, skied and snowshoed, camped and hiked, biked and paddled—and learned some things about themselves along the way.
The experiences they shared and skills they gained as participants or employees at Washington State University’s Outdoor Recreation Center shaped their careers, grew into lifelong passions, and became treasured memories.
Here, in celebration of the ORC’s fiftieth anniversary this year, they share some of the moments and history that helped define them and the long-running program.
He didn’t start it, and it wasn’t his idea. But Chris Tapfer is often credited with both. That’s because he got involved with the ORC when it was just getting going and ended up running it for nearly three decades.
“The idea came from a group of students who had gotten the idea from the University of Oregon, which had a cooperative outdoor program,” says Tapfer (’73 Rec.), the program’s first volunteer. “They approached (what was then-called) Campus Recreation, and Campus Recreation took it to ASWSU to see if they were interested in supporting it. The ASWSU voted for $600 to start it. That all happened in the spring of 1971 with the idea that the program would start in the fall of 1971, which it did.”
Tapfer learned of the plans for what was then known as the Outdoor Activities Program “because it was written up in the Evergreen. I read about it, and I said, ‘I’m going to find out more about this.’”
He already knew Bob Stephens, WSU activities and recreational sports coordinator, because of Tapfer’s job managing the rental shop at WSU’s North South Ski Bowl. “I had been a ski racer and worked in ski shops to fund my ski racing,” Tapfer explains. “When I applied for the job, I was expecting to just work at the ski shop as a grunt. But, because of my past experience, they put me in charge.”
A quarter-time graduate assistant had already been hired for the new OAP, which shared a “little, tiny” roughly 10-by-10-foot office with gym supervisors in the Physical Education Building. “The rental shop consisted of one metal cabinet in the corner and had a couple of pairs of snowshoes and backpacking stoves and some other stuff and that was about it,” recalls Tapfer, who first visited the office “right after school started the third week of September 1971. That was the old schedule. John Caywood (the graduate assistant) was just getting started. He was starting from scratch. I came in and introduced myself and said I’d like to help out. He was very happy to see me. Right away, we started making plans.”
Using the cooperative model inspired by the U of O, the two would post sign-ups for trips—“mostly hiking and camping,” Tapfer says. “We were not leaders. We were not guides. We just cooperatively set up trips. These were things that we would have been doing anyway. It was a chance for us to find other people who wanted to do these activities. We’d share rides.”
Initially, it was almost all volunteer. Only the graduate assistant was paid to run the program for ten hours per week. “As time went by, the model changed a bit. We started charging like five dollars for a class, and I’d get paid a stipend as a student worker,” says Tapfer, who taught classes for the OAP in fall and spring and continued working at the ski area in winter. “I was putting myself through college. I had to work as much as possible,” he says. “During the winter months, I’d spend every weekend at the ski area. I’d spend as much time as I could up there working Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.”
Tragedy struck near the end of the OAP’s first year. Alan P. Bouillon, a freshman from Seattle, died March 25, 1972, in a climbing accident near Snoqualmie Pass. He was about three-fourths of the way up Guye Peak when he slipped, falling an estimated 600 feet while leading an outing for the OAP.
Many participants feared his death would lead to the end of the fledgling program. “His parents pushed hard back on that idea,” Tapfer says. “He was an outdoorsman. He knew what he was doing. He knew the risks.”
Reflecting on the following decades, Tapfer says, “I’m proud of the fact that, after Al Bouillon, we never had another fatality. You’d get sprains and scratches and stuff like that. But we never had another fatality. We never had another major injury. That goes to show everybody’s commitment—our students, our staff—and good risk management.”
The second spring of the OAP, Tapfer was looking for a place to do his internship for recreation management. “Typically, they want you to do it off-campus at a more formalized rec department rather than a cooperative student program,” he says. “But I talked them into letting me do it at the OAP. After that internship, I got dubbed ‘the father of the OAP.’ A lot of people look at the spring of 1973 as when the OAP really got going. Students were coming out of the hippie era, and they were really interested in outdoor things and the environment. Even though our numbers weren’t huge, our students were very dedicated.”
Tapfer had planned on working for the US Forest Service after graduation. But Stephens pushed for more funding for the OAP, and Tapfer got into graduate school. He started a master’s degree in wildland recreation management and did his graduate assistantship with the OAP from 1973 to 1975. That summer, “they decided they wanted a full-time person for the job, and I applied.”
Tapfer didn’t finish the graduate degree but he got the job. Within ten years, he was also overseeing WSU’s sport clubs as well as helping oversee the ski area, which ceased operation in 1980. He volunteered to coach the men’s club ski team from 1977 to 1982, when it became the WSU Ski Team. He coached that team, which included women racers, until 1992. Having developed experience with risk management for the ORC and University sport clubs, he also assisted what’s now known as University Recreation with improving risk management across many of its activities and programs.
“I can’t remember how many times I went in front of ASWSU to make my pitch for the money needed to operate the program over the years,” he says. “Most of the time they were really into it. This was a student organization, and students were involved as employees, participants, and volunteers. It was important to them.”
In the early 1980s, the name changed from the OAP to the ORC. “We were adding programs and needed a name that was more broad,” Tapfer says.
One of those was the Palouse Disabled Outdoor Group, or Palouse DOG. “This effort was a significant step for the ORC at the time, when outreach and inclusiveness for people with disabilities was still a new thing in the outdoor recreation world,” says Tapfer, who got the idea at a conference on outdoor education. Jim Trivelpiece, who transferred from what was then Student Disability Services, applied for a federal grant to help make outdoor experiences more accessible for WSU and community members with varying special needs.
“Other than overall supervision and approval of operations and risk management, I was not involved with the programming but designed and built a number of adaptive devices in my shop to make activities like rafting, kayaking, and canoeing accessible for various physical disabilities,” Tapfer says. “At the time, WSU and the area did not have a lot of students or community people with the types of physical disabilities that needed additional support who wanted to participate. In short, the participation numbers just could not justify the program after the grant ran out. It was a noble experiment, but sadly ended after the three-year grant ended.”
Still, participation in overall programming continued to grow. The first year of the OAP, Tapfer says, “we had a few hundred participants days. One person for a day equals one participation day. By the time we got into the ’80s and ’90s, we annually had 50,000 to 60,000 participation days. The program was quite popular.”
Most outings, especially early on, “were pretty local,” Tapfer says. “We stayed relatively close to Pullman. Once I went full-time, we started doing bigger trips and more complicated and involved outdoor activities. We had lots of river trips—lots of whitewater rafting and kayaking trips—on the rivers of the Northwest and as far afield as the Colorado River, which is a 20-day trip. Between 1975 and 1988 or so, we were doing lots of big trips—at least one every summer. Our first exploratory expedition was to Glacier Bay in southeast Alaska for sea kayaking. That went over so well we did it again the following year and got more students engaged. In 1982, we were part of a climbing expedition on the north side of Denali.”
He logged 270 miles of trekking on the Denali trip—and “trashed my knee. I had to have surgery. As time went on, my knees got worse and worse. It became harder and harder.”
His last big expedition with the ORC was a nine-day trip on the middle fork of the Salmon River in 1996. By then, prices for such excursions were climbing, and his job responsibilities were changing. In 2003, his role shifted outside of University Recreation. In 2011, he retired and moved to the west side.
“I still go boating and do some (outdoor activities) but things that don’t take as much out of me,” Tapfer says, noting he can’t quite believe it’s been fifty years since the center got its start. “That’s hard for me to get my head around sometimes, especially because of my role in helping get the program started when I was still an undergraduate student, that it’s been around for fifty years and continues to thrive. Where did all the time go, and how did I get to be so damned old? I remember all the expeditions we did quite clearly. I wish we kept better records early on. I would like to know how many thousands of students we directly impacted, students who, in many cases, had no outdoor experience then went on to continue enjoying the outdoors and passing that love down to their kids. That’s a really positive thing. I look back, and that makes me happy.”
Catching a wave, lifelong passion, and career
“The Outdoor Adventure trip guided me to my love of surfing and my future career,” says Jen Gudaz (‘01 Rec. & Leis. Studies). “I didn’t know a lot about the program at the time, but I had grown up in the outdoors and I was the last graduating class of the RLS major with no clue what I was going to do with that degree. My parents were concerned, too.”
Gudaz was the assistant manager at Rainey Pool. “It must have been summer of 1999 or 2000,” she remembers. “A few of us staff members decided we were going to do the outdoor adventure surfing trip to Cannon Beach, Oregon. There are a few things I won’t forget from this trip—the van ride, the freezing temps of the Pacific Ocean, and the feeling I got riding a wave.
“The van ride doesn’t seem like it would be interesting, but since most of us didn’t know each other well we spent the time getting acquainted. It also served as a home base, as the air and water would be freezing and we would need shelter. I was with my friends, including Brian Barney (’07 Kinesio.). Brian had grown up in California so he was giving all of us tips on how to surf. I don’t think he really knew how to surf well, but we took his tips. In all, it was a good way to bring the group together and make us one as we were spending the weekend together.
“We got to the beach and had to get wetsuits—I’m sure 7mm—and boards. I don’t think any of us realized how cold the water would be, or the fact we would have to have head-to-toe wetsuits covering us. It took a lot of convincing to actually get in once we realized it wasn’t going to be pleasant. The water temperature was in the 50s, and we could only stay in about 30 minutes at a time. The thing about surfing is there is nothing like riding your first wave. I was hooked.”
Gudaz would go on to work in outdoor adventures at a summer camp during grad school. She also continued to surf. In fact, she and her husband—who she met at WSU—have surfed five continents. And, in her current position as senior associate director of athletics and director of physical education and recreation at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, she oversees the Cornell Outdoor Education program. “While WSU has had many impacts on my life,” she says, “this one really shaped the last twenty years.”
Continuing to build
Mike Petlovany came to WSU from California when he “was still pretty young. I was twenty-five, twenty-six, when I started at WSU,” he says. “I wasn’t much older than most of the students.”
Petlovany worked at the ORC—minus a deployment to Iraq from August 2004 to November 2005 with the U.S. Army—for five years from summer 2003 to summer 2008. He started as a coordinator and was later promoted to assistant director.
He recalls his time at the ORC as a period of growth and development, focusing on standardizing training, risk assessments, and professional protocols for student adventure facilitators, or trip leaders.
“What I found over time was—because we have such a rollover of the student population—it’s best to do certain trips really well all the time. It reduces your liability and increases your familiarity,” Petlovany says. “We’d toss in one pretty out there trip every now and then”—such as trip to Costa Rica in 2004—“but we tried to have a consistent quiver of trips.”
The idea, he explains, was “to build a foundation so senior leaders could mentor someone who’s new. Early on, I went on a good percentage of those trips. I wanted to make it so it was self-sustaining without me being overly hands-on, but initially I need to be there.”
Petlovany had worked in outdoor education for the U.S. Navy in Virginia and California after earning a master’s degree in the field in Colorado. When he first arrived in Pullman, there was a pretty big learning curve. “I had never been to the Pacific Northwest before I came for the interview,” he says.
He interviewed in spring 2003 and took note of the rolling green hills of the Palouse. But he wasn’t familiar with the rest of the terrain. “When I drove through Yakima the first time—I think I was driving the back way to Mount Rainier—I expected it to be like the Hoh Rainforest.”
WSU’s location is one of the things that attracted him to the position. “We’re not close to many things, but we’re a moderate distance from almost everything,” he says, noting the ORC has “run trips to Nevada and Banff. You can get there in a day.”
He helped start the popular sunset paddles on the Snake River, buying kayaks in 2003. “When I started we had whitewater kayaks but we didn’t have touring ones.”
He also developed a risk-management tool he called PEGY, or People times Environment times Gear times Why. “Everything we did revolved around risk management,” Petlovany says. For example, he asks, “Do we need to summit this mountain? We can turn around. We have people who are tired and hungry and stressed out. Why are we doing it?”
For student employees, “I wanted them to get good decision-making skills out of it and be able to lead.”
For participants, “I wanted them to get to the point where they would be comfortable to go out and do things safely on their own. I wanted the outdoors to be part of their lifestyle going forward.”
He helped enhance Leave No Trace practices, becoming a Master LNT instructor and training staff to become certified LNT trainers. Eco-adventures started during his tenure. “I definitely had a role in establishing that program,” he says. “We’d integrate a service project with a climb or another outdoor activity.” Early eco-adventures included teaming up with Friends of Inyo in the Eastern Sierra Mountains to help clean up invasive species then do a climb. The ORC also partnered with the Center for Civic Engagement to do events such as clean-up-and-climbs at Granite Point in collaboration with other groups such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
He developed programming for student trip leaders “where we’d do trainings in-house and then a culminating three- or four-day backpacking trip to Mount Adams or the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and run through scenarios from people management and planning to medical emergencies and wilderness first aid.”
Petlovany also had a hand in establishing student development grants to help extend student leaders’ training by subsidizing advanced training. And he co-taught a wilderness leadership elective for the College of Education for a couple of semesters with coordinator Justin Hougham (‘05 ME, ’08 PhD Higher Ed. Admin.).
“The thought of the ORC turning fifty makes me feel a bit older,” he says. “It really does speak to the quality of the program that relatively few people have had their hands in running it for fifty years. I was there for about five years. Chris was there for almost thirty. Jonathan has been there for twelve or thirteen years.”
The best thing about the job was, he says, “being able to impact students and their lives going forward. At the time, I was looking for those a-ha moments letting me know I had made an impact on someone’s day.”
Petlovany deployed to Iraq after just about eighteen months at WSU. “There was this core group of students who were working with me that were incredibly supportive and helped give me a send-off,” he remembers. “I felt really cared for back then, and I’m still in touch with them now.”
While he transitioned to a career in law enforcement after returning from Iraq—he’s now an officer with WSU Police—the outdoors remains a big part of his lifestyle. And it’s something he’s now sharing with his children. “My kids already climb. My son is nine, and my daughter is seven. They’re both very good skiers. Whenever we travel, we go climbing or skiing or rafting.” In fact, he notes, “We just got back from climbing at Red Rocks.”
“I would not have graduated without the ORC,” says Charlotte R. Milling (’06 Biol.)
She doesn’t remember how she found out about the job, but she started working at the center at the end of her junior year. She was putting herself through school. Money was tight.
“I wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay at WSU and in college without the ORC and UREC,” she says. “There weren’t many good jobs, especially on campus—unless you had work study. Most offered 20-hour work weeks, and there was a lot of competition for them.”
Senior year, Milling “had to take a semester off because of financial hardship. UREC and the ORC gave me enough work to hit 40 hours in a week, which allowed me to save enough money to re-enroll in the spring.”
She worked in the rental shop, at the climbing wall, and as a trip leader. Before landing the job, she had never participated in an ORC excursion. But, she says, “It seemed like a good fit. I’m an outdoorsy person. I loved backpacking. I loved gym rock-climbing. And I just hit the ground running. The position started when school ended.”
Milling worked at the ORC for two years, including two summers. “I did a super-senior year and was in Pullman for five years,” she notes.
Those last two years were the most memorable, and it’s because of the ORC. “My social life was the ORC. I finally found people I could climb with. They became my family. They were my friends. They were my adventure buddies. They were my travel partners. I found my cohort. We were all juniors and seniors or super seniors. It was super fun. I valued their friendships then, and I do now.”
She led two trips per semester. “That was sort of the expectation. That was the goal,” says Milling, who took students skiing in Whitefish, Montana, and backpacking in Havasu Canyon on the Havasupai Reservation in Arizona over Thanksgiving week. She also drove ski shuttles to Silver Mountain, went cross-country skiing at Palouse Divide, paddled on the Snake River, and snow-shoed to the Jerry Johnson Hot Springs in Idaho.
“Many of these things were super-local, but places I never would have gone on my own, places I never would have known existed,” she says. “You can have this really incredible experience within a half-hour of Pullman. Kamiak Butte is right there. It’s a real ecological treasure. You can do yoga at sunset surrounded by the gorgeousness of the Palouse in some of the last remaining historical prairie habitat of that area. Elk River Falls is only 45 minutes from Pullman. It’s pretty spectacular when you think about it.”
But, she says, “I don’t think that’s something enough WSU students appreciate.” To them, she says, “You can go outside. Go outside.”
When she was at WSU—“and that was fifteen years ago,” she notes—“I don’t think very many students realized the ORC existed for them. I can’t tell you how many people walked into that building when I worked there, saw the rental shop, and said, ‘I didn’t know this place was here.’ I must have heard that ten times a semester. I hope it’s different now. How lucky they are to have that resource.”
In addition to a close-knit group of friends, Milling gained new skills and experiences. “There are things I learned how to do at the ORC that I never would have learned to do otherwise,” she says. “Things like cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snow-shoeing. Two co-workers taught me to ski. Now I’m a pretty darn good skier. And I snowshoe every winter. What I learned about myself is I have an incredible aptitude for learning new skills. Obviously, college is for learning. But outside of everything I was doing academically I was still learning all of these new things that had function at some point in my career. It was such a formative time.”
Training was a key focus. “UREC and the ORC put a lot of stock in professional development. We just got this incredible exposure. Plus, you had this equipment at your disposal. At the end, I had this skillset. I think it was an asset to my resume.”
Today, Milling is a post-doctoral scholar and wild-life biologist at Ohio State University, doing mostly research but some teaching, too. “Wildlife is a really hard industry to get a job in,” she says. “I felt like the ORC opened up avenues for me professionally. There were more options for me when I was done with school.”
‘A great place to grow’
Daniella “Donna” Ruth (Drader) Lorincz Vingelen (’09 MS Nat. Res. Sci.) was a graduate student from 2005 to 2009, and both worked at and used the ORC. “I supported the start of eco and cultural adventures as my master’s thesis was dealing with Native American perspectives in modern-day land management,” she writes. “I was also the Green Bike graduate-student advocate when we presented our proposal and was proud to be a part of its start-up. While most of my friends at the ORC were undergrads, I still connected with them and loved to hear about what their next steps were. I attended a friend’s wedding a couple of years ago, and I still catch up on folks when they post on social media. The ORC bonded a lot of folks with the love of the natural world and provided a great place to grow. I think some of my favorite trips were the intro to backpacking ones where folks were trying things out for the first time. It’s amazing to see someone tackle something new and realize that adventure is accessible to them. Thank you to the ORC family and all the best for the next fifty years!”
Do you have favorite memories and photos of ORC adventures? Share them with Washington State Magazine.