Eric Sorenson can remember the first time he saw students carrying in buckets of walleye into Walnut Hall, decked out in their snowmobiling jackets and Carhartt bibs. He also remembers the first time he saw a student lugging a shotgun to their car for a hunting trip.
Sorenson, a BSU grad and now communications coordinator with the Alumni Foundation, said those memories perfectly describe the impact the outdoors has on the BSU campus community. You don’t find moments like those on many college campuses today, he says.
With Lake Bemidji right in the university’s backyard, a large amount of public land for hunting and more than 400 lakes within a 25-mile drive, there is no surprise that outdoor recreation is highly valued by students and faculty. In fact, many people find the outdoors deeply rooted in the BSU culture and student experience.
Randy Ludeman, director of Housing and Residential Life, said the availability of outdoor activity options -- and an outdoors education -- are a great selling point incoming students look at when committing to BSU. The experience allows students to find their passions through recreation and education. He said university staff keep trying to improve and provide more options for students to take advantage of the local outdoor resources.
“We have very clearly taken advantage of where we are located in selling to students the experience here and living on a lake,” said Ludeman. “With all the activities and our Outdoor Program Center -- which is ranked nationally -- we have that asset available to our students.”
It isn't just the natural resources that helps students come and decide to stay at BSU. University officials’ ability to listen to students with outdoors-related interests and provide them with the resources they need is something that students appreciate. Some notable specialty aspects of BSU’s campus include a weapons storage facility and a wild game cleaning room, both located in Walnut Hall. These additions have made safety and ease a priority for students who enjoy hunting, fishing and trap shooting.
In 2017, BSU remodeled it’s more than 30 year-old, weapons storage area. “We were not meeting the need for numbers of those interested, and what we had just wasn't usable,” Ludeman said. “It was hard to get things in them because they were old gym lockers that were recycled after the wellness center renovated years ago.”
Ludeman said weapon storage guidelines are directly addressed with students from Day 1 and the regulations have been widely accepted among the campus community. There are weapon cleaning stations in the storage facility along with cameras that are monitored by the Public Safety Department to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Both Sorenson and Ludeman agree that the outdoor experiences available at BSU have an effect on students educationally and mentally.
“When students are having a good time doing that kind of thing they are going to stick around and they are probably going to be more successful -- because they are doing things they like to do and doing it in a positive productive way,” Ludeman said.
Along with recreational activities, Ludeman said he has found that the Outdoor Learning Community floors in the freshman residence halls have become a popular choice for incoming students.
“First year freshman students it's amazing how many come here because of that, they do want they love and want to stick around, and this place has 400 fishable lakes within 20 minutes of town -- the woods are public and there are lots of opportunities,” Ludeman said.
Sorenson said that the natural beauty of the Bemidji community helped him with his college transition and there were no second thoughts about his decision. He said he is thankful the university is really listening to what students want out of their college experience.
“When I first came to campus and I found out there was a weapons storage facility and a game cleaning room and things like that it was such a welcoming feeling,” said Sorenson. “It was so nice to know that I chose a place that was welcoming of students who enjoy the outdoors -- I felt accepted.”
Along with using the outdoors as a source of recreation; it has also been important to students educating themselves in the classroom and out. Students studying in outdoors- and environmental-related fields have a great classroom right outside the door,
The Aquatic Biology department is home to one of the biggest examples of these experiences. The Hard Water Research Lab, which was built on an ice fishing house frame, is a portable research lab designed to give students the opportunity to conduct field research all year long.
BSU Sustainability Coordinator Erika Bailey-Johnson said the opportunity to get involved in outdoor activities only enhance students’ ability to do what they love while learning to respect the area around them.
“We can teach not only the techniques and how to do these things, but how to respect the environment -- I think students come in with a lot of good experiences here and learn to interact with the outdoors in a positive way and to continue traditions their families have taught them, too,” Ludeman said. “ It’s about wellness.”