A student club at the University of New Mexico is swinging the doors open to the outdoor spaces of the Land of Enchantment.
The UNM Wilderness Alliance gets students off the couch and leads them on outdoor adventures of all sorts.
Lauren Auer, the co-president of the club, said that the club has activities that range from hiking and backpacking to tree-planting and snowshoeing.
“We’re here to spread awareness about New Mexico’s wild lands,” Auer said. “We do some educational activities, and we do that by getting people out to see the outdoors.”
The club’s focus on education is really what sets them apart from other outdoor-based clubs on campus, Auer said. The club maintains this focus by reaching out to the community and sometimes talking to schools about environmental conservation.
“Something we’d like to do in the future is host educational nature hikes for school children,” Auer said. “We would possibly go to White Sands or outside in the Sandias, even, and just get them outside, get them excited about nature. Because that’s really how we can get future generations interested in protecting the environment.”
Joseph Cook, director of the Museum of Southwestern Biology, holds a Ph.D. in biology and is one of the faculty advisors for the club. Cook said he likes to see students take on leadership roles.
“(Students) learn that a university education is much more than just attending classes,” Cook said. “Students gain various skills and experiences by participating, including leadership and organizational skills.”
The UNM Wilderness Alliance aims to make two trips per month: one that is conservation- and education-focused and one trip just for fun, Auer said. Although both are exciting, conservation-focused trips have a bit more of a serious note to them, she said.
“With conservation projects, we’re trying to make some kind of difference,” Auer said. “We’re trying to restore a trail or pull out an invasive species from an area or plant cottonwood trees in a certain area. Conservation projects are really focused on achieving our missions, and fun activities are doing some kind of outdoor activity just to get people outside.”
In addition to trips, the club has two meetings each month. These meetings usually feature a speaker who comes to talk about wildlife and the environment, she said.
“Last year we had someone talking to us about wolverines in New Mexico,” Auer said. “We’ll have people come and talk to us about potential conservation projects.”
The UNM Wilderness Alliance had a meeting on Tuesday, where author George Wuerthner spoke about conservation. They then held a workshop about writing letters to state representatives.
Most of the people the club attracts are majoring in science, but some are from other disciplines, Auer said.
“(The club) provides a great opportunity to get to know a wider range of students at UNM,” added Cook. “Many UNM Wilderness Alliance members are not from my department.”
“We would like to have people from other majors and studies in the club as well, but so far it seems mostly people who already have an interest in nature and in outdoor recreation,” Auer said.
Auer’s favorite part of being in the club is interacting with all of the members, she said.
“Once people get involved, they tend to stick around, because they realize that the activities we’re doing are actually really fun, and we’re a pretty close community,” she said. “Pretty much everyone who is involved in the club, we’re all friends. It’s a really great way to meet new people who want to go on adventures with you.”
As faculty advisor, Cook said he aims to encourage students to appreciate New Mexico.
“Get outside, experience wild New Mexico and be inspired to take action and live a meaningful life that isn’t centered on the almighty dollar,” Cook said. “Our planet is changing quickly, so we all need to become better informed about how each of us can live in ways that insures that future generations will be able to enjoy our outstanding natural environments.”
To join the club, one must only like the UNM Wilderness Alliance Facebook page.
“Come to our meetings if you can,” Auer said. “If you can’t come to the meetings, that’s no big deal — we’re happy to have you along on our trip.”
Ariel Lutnesky is a culture reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.