In a region of Idaho plentifully adorned with untamed rivers, colorful cliffs, dramatic deserts and scenic trails, there is no shortage of ways to experience the great outdoors. The Magic Valley and its surrounding areas are home to snow-seeker destinations like Magic Mountain, Pomerelle and Soldier Mountain; kayaking and rafting experiences along the Snake River; diving in Dierkes Lake; and rockhound rendezvous in City of Rocks.

While most tourists are content with a day or weekend trip to get their fill of nature, a small portion of the population is driven to go deeper. That’s where the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program comes in. Designed for those who wish to develop the skills needed to lead others in challenging environments, students in the program become adept at wilderness and snow travel, rock climbing, whitewater navigation and outdoor survival through a series of hands-on, field-based experiences.

“The Magic Valley is an outdoor paradise,” said Program Director Mike Young. “This program connects students to resources and also helps to articulate those resources to people in the community so everyone here can recreate and get involved.”

More than a semester of field trips

With a focus on learning how to take care of themselves and others in nature, cohorts of the Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program can often be found on Nordic ski trails, cliff faces, mountain bike trails or week-long backpacking trips. While it may be easy to read the program’s itinerary and wonder if it’s just a way to earn college credits for sharing stories around a campfire, Mike said that coursework in the backcountry classroom is just as demanding as that in an indoor lecture hall.

“The courses overlap with a lot of other disciplines,” Mike said. “Of course we talk about natural resources, but we also focus on education, business and even law. A significant amount of what we teach is also related to risk management and liability, but the difference is that we might be learning about it as we gear up for a swift water rescue instead of from behind a desk.”

By incorporating other areas of study into the program, students are able to apply their experiences and outdoor knowledge across a variety of industries including retail, outfitting, tourism and travel, manufacturing, land management and preservation, public access and therapy.

“Our best students are excited to get outside, but they also have a vested interest in working hard, both physically and mentally,” said Mike.

Photos Courtesy/CSI Outdoor Program

Keeping the “community” in community college

While the landscape alone makes the Magic Valley an ideal location for the Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program, the community involvement makes it even better. The roles and expectations of staff and students significantly overlap with nearby small businesses, local and regional outdoor organizations, and the City of Twin Falls.

For example, each semester, students in the program complete a conservation project that is often implemented locally. Past projects have included partnerships with trail organizations and even a Canyon Rim cleanup where students repelled over the edge of the Snake River Canyon to pick up trash.

“When the students can see the intersection between recreation and natural resources, they begin to understand their community in a different way,” Mike said.

Some students have even gone on to become teachers themselves, like Tony Roberts who works as a rock climbing instructor at CSI, owns Magic Valley Gear Exchange and is the Maintenance Committee Chair of the Southern Idaho Climbing Coalition. The program also partners extensively with activity-based small businesses in Twin Falls including AWOL and Gemstone Climbing.

“A lot of the overlap we see in the community creates opportunities for students to volunteer and become connected to the resources around them,” said Mike. “Twin Falls is a beautiful community that’s big enough to have a lot of resources, but small enough that individuals can still make a difference.”

Watch the Outdoor Recreation Leadership Program trailer on YouTube and visit the program information page to learn more and enroll in courses.