San Juan College forms outdoor leadership group

Joshua Kellogg
Zach Quintero and Eliza Elsbury work on the climbing wall on Thursday at San Juan College's Health and Human Performance Center in Farmington.

FARMINGTON — San Juan College has formed an outdoor advisory committee to help transition and expand its outdoor leadership program into a community recreation program.

The Outdoor Recreation Advisory Committee was established to help the college change its Outdoor Leadership Education and Recreation, or OLER, degree and certification program to non-credit outdoor recreation courses, according to Outdoor Recreation Coordinator Annie Willmon.

Willmon along with college Community Learning Center Director Liesl Dees are on the committee which also includes Cory Styron, director of the city of Farmington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department; Doug McKim, outdoor recreation planner for the Bureau of Land Management's Farmington field office; and others.

“The committee will help the college make good decisions and provide new directions for San Juan College’s Outdoor Recreation classes and rentals,” Dees said.

The college started the process of discontinuing the OLER associate degree and certification program this school year, but students already enrolled in the program are being allowed to finish.

Scott Smalley scales the climbing wall on Thursday at the San Juan College Health and Human Performance Center in Farmington.

Non-credit courses through the Community Learning Center were offered alongside for-credit courses like Wilderness First Responder and Winter Backcountry Travel this semester and also will be offered in the Spring 2016 semester.

Instructor Nathan Henkenius said all students currently enrolled in the for-credit courses are scheduled to complete their degree or certification before the Fall 2016 semester. While the college will not offer certification, future courses can be used to seek certification from outside organizations.

Budget constraints and a decline in enrollment were cited as some of the reasons for closing the academic program, according to Nancy Shepherd, the college's presidential adviser for community relations.

“We’re limited in our funds. We have to go with the classes and the programs to provide the best possible jobs in the future,” Shepherd said.

Henkenius said a lot of the students in the OLER classes were not involved with the college academically but were community members looking to earn their certification in a number of outdoor activities.

The committee held its first meeting on Thursday allowing members to speak about their different perspectives on outdoor activities in the region.

Dees said members were interested in how the college can help Farmington and neighboring areas promote outdoor activities — to see what kind of classes people might be interested in and what partnerships can be formed to help grow the program.

Tonya Stinson, executive director of the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said an increased focus on outdoor activities aligns with the bureau’s "Jolt Your Journey" branding initiative, which is designed to attract “outdoor lovers and active families” to the area.

Eliza Elsbury tapes her hands on Thursday before climbing the rock wall at San Juan College's Health and Human Performance Center in Farmington.

“I’m really just grateful they are thinking about this and seizing the opportunity while things are changing,” Stinson said.

Stinson proposed a program where the visitors bureau helps promote a weekend workshop that would highlight attractions in the Farmington area.

Future committee meetings will focus on what classes to offer next year, what demographics are important and how to shift the current credit classes to non-credit offerings.

Willmon said the college is looking at courses for seniors, teenagers and children as part of the Kids Kollege summer program.

Courses like the Essentials of Stand Up Paddleboarding, which is a one-credit-hour class, require 24 hours of instructional time. Dees said courses like paddleboarding will be evaluated to see if they can be taught in a shorter time frame.

“I like to think we might offer more classes but not as intense as our credit classes have been,” Dees said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.