2 students at Outdoor Center counter renting out ski boots
Outdoor Center Encourages “Amazing Adventures”

PSU Outdoor Center logo
So, you are a Plymouth State University student or community member and you want to enjoy one of the many outdoor activities that New Hampshire and New England have to offer. Maybe it is an overnight hike, but you don’t own a day pack or tent. Or you want to try stand-up paddleboarding for the first time, but you don’t want to buy the equipment in case you don’t like it. Or cross-country skiing. Or rock climbing. Or snowshoeing. The list goes on and on in this outdoor-friendly area.

This scenario is not uncommon for PSU students, staff, and faculty. Luckily, the University’s Outdoor Center has anything and everything you might need for an outdoor activity in the area and beyond, and high-quality equipment can be rented by students at no charge.

There is lots more where that came from. The Outdoor Center includes a climbing wall in the Human Performance Center and a ropes course in the Bank of New Hampshire Field House. There are also two programs for adventure trips, Student Outdoor Adventure Recreation (SOAR) and Community Adventure Learning Experience (CALE), which help with team building and personal growth. The “OC” also helps students plan their own trips.

“I don’t want the equipment and resources just sitting here, sad and unused,” says Craig Paiement, Outdoor Center director. “The purpose of having it is to use it, and the amount of equipment we have available to us is unbelievable.”

After being shut down for a couple of years due to COVID, the Outdoor Center is back up and running. This semester has been the first time Abby Brown ’24 has been able to take advantage of the OC’s great array of gear. She has taken out a day pack and hammock for trips, as well as a backpack for a teaching lesson for her adventure education major, and she is planning to visit the center again ahead of a planned canoe trip.

Craig Paiement, Outdoor Center director with skis and coats in background
Craig Paiement, Outdoor Center director
“It is absolutely amazing—there is such a variety of equipment for anything you want to do outdoors,” Brown says. “It’s great that the school wants to expose us to the outdoors and provide opportunities for people to try new things.”

Matt Canfield ’23, another adventure education major, works at the Outdoor Center and is a huge proponent of using the equipment. He has personally taken out dozens of items.

“Plymouth is in such a prime area for outdoor activities,” says Canfield. “You can drive no more than an hour and go on some rapids, hike a mountain, ski the slopes, paddle a river, rock climb, etc., and the OC has the gear to do it all. I have been able to have some amazing adventures and make new friends and it wouldn’t have been possible without the OC. Just go down to the OC, rent whatever gear you need, and you’re ready to rock and roll. It couldn’t be simpler if you tried.”

Paiement, who is in his first year at PSU, has made it even easier for students. He opened OC @ the HUB, an extension of the Outdoor Center that is right next to the bookstore in the Hartman Union Building. Tucked into a high-visibility spot that formerly was a private study area, it is now a place where students can rent equipment and get information on programs. They can also pick up certain rented gear during open hours. Paiement is hoping to get key boxes on lockers so students can get equipment after hours as well.

“There is already quite a bit of traffic at the OC @ the HUB,” says Paiement, who has an abundance of outdoor experience as a former professional triathlete, adventure racer, professional strength and conditioning coach, field instructor, operations and logistics coordinator, and college professor, not to mention his personal interests in kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, and much more. “There will be even more when the space is further developed.”

2 students with packs hiking together on a wooded trail
Smiling student canoeing on lake with forest in background
Other ideas Paiement is tossing around for the Outdoor Center include:

  • Create a 1-on-1 series on outdoor activities for beginners, like whitewater rafting, rock climbing, etc., to make them feel more comfortable and knowledgeable.
  • Put on fun activities that showcase what the OC has on campus to engage students.
  • Maintenance of students’ equipment, which will be another way to bring or introduce students to the center while also allowing adventure ed majors to gain hands-on experience fixing and tuning gear as a “supervised learning lab for our students.”
  • Offer smaller or more instructional trips that will lead to more longer trips.

“Our role is to provide opportunities and exposure to interest students in the many programs we offer,” says Paiement. “We want to get them excited about the outdoors and join outdoor clubs, and then want to go on trips.” ■ Brad Spiegel

Smiling student on top of rockwall they climbed
“Forest Bathing” Promotes Calmness, Mindfulness
College life can sometimes be stressful, between studying, peer pressure, finances, and just trying to fit it all in. The pandemic over the past two-plus years has been yet another factor to contend with.

One way Plymouth State University is combating this issue is via the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku, or forest bathing—finding calmness and mindfulness among nature. It has been proven to help reduce stress, improve one’s happiness, and even lower heart rate and blood pressure, among other benefits.

“There has been significant research on forest bathing,” says Craig Paiement, faculty in adventure education and director of the outdoor center. “People’s psychological welfare goes down when not in a fully natural environment. Plymouth State wants to help students step away from technology and integrate them with the natural environment around them. We feel it will improve and impact their quality of life by lowering anxiety and increasing endorphins.”

Many studies have shown that those in forest sites versus urban locales have lower stress indicators, including pulse rate and blood pressure. 

PSU affords students the use of its more than 1,000 pieces of rentable outdoor equipment, as well as planned trips that make getting into nature easily accessible. The idea is to not only help students relieve stress and get healthier but to also give them alternatives, such as day trips and forest walks, to being on their screens non-stop while removing them, as much as possible, from unhealthy habits that have arisen since the pandemic.

“I think most students these days at other schools are not connected with the natural world, but Plymouth State attracts students who like the outdoors and have an interest in doing these types of activities,” says Professor of Adventure Education Jamie Hannon. “Any time we can provide good opportunities as an alternative to screen time, then I think we are doing good things for their brains, their academics, and their social relationships.”

“We embrace forest bathing; it’s all the rage in certain circles,” Hannon adds. “It creates stress reduction, mindfulness, and clears your head.”

The availability of equipment and programs as a way for anyone to get outdoors is not lost on PSU students.

“The programs and equipment here are simple to access and are a great way to take a break from the fast-paced life of academics and enjoy the day with friends,” says Matt Canfield ’23. ■ Brad Spiegel

Student on large rock face in woods