Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
Luke Perkins doesn’t have a lot of free time to make a break for the great outdoors. The Grand Canyon University senior nursing student is in the thick of clinical rotations and lab simulations and readying for the tough-as-nails National Council Licensure Exam, which he must pass to start working as a nurse.
But when he does have a minute to get outside, he heads to Base Camp, the GCU Outdoor Recreation program’s equipment rental center for students — and for employees, too. It’s also the go-to resource center for anyone who might have, say, a camping or backpacking question or who might want to take an introduction-to-rappelling class or learn how to tune their skis or snowboards.
“It truly is incredible,” said Perkins of Base Camp, located on the first floor of the Agave Apartments next to the Colangelo College of Business. “I don’t get to use it as frequently as I’d like to — I’ve used it a few times — but it’s been kind of a game-changer.”
Base Camp is a nature lover’s oasis on the GCU campus that has that Cabela’s or Bass Pro Shops vibe, only smaller.
Shelves are stacked with neatly rolled sleeping bags, sleeping pads, backpacks of all colors lined neatly in rows, tents, trekking poles, cooking supplies and paddleboards for rent. GCU Outdoor Recreation-branded gear, from T-shirts to mugs, is also on sale.
“Pretty much we have whatever you need, for the most part, to go camping, backpacking and do other recreational activities,” said Chad Schlundt, Outdoor Recreation Manager for Campus Recreation.
Base Camp makes communing with Mother Nature convenient for students who often come to campus with their clothes, bathroom caddy and bedding but don’t haul their bulky outdoors equipment with them to their residence hall rooms, which only offer up so much space.
The facility for nature-enthusiasts opened three years ago, just before the pandemic.
Before that, Schlundt said, “We’d be sending students to different places in the Valley, like REI or Arizona Hiking Shack, where it’s really inconvenient, where it’s like, 'I don’t have a sleeping bag and I can’t go on this trip.'”
Students would head to the nearest store and buy a subpar sleeping bag “and then be really cold on a trip.”
That was unacceptable to the Outdoor Rec department, so seeing a need, staff wanted to create an equipment resource for students.
“Our tents that we use on adventure trips, we wouldn’t necessarily need all of them on these trips, and we found that students needed equipment to go,” Schlundt said. “We saw that need. It slowly took us awhile to get all the equipment built up. … But we didn’t need to send them anywhere.”
It was important to the department to not only make going on adventure trips more convenient but to make them budget-friendly, too.
“We’re the most affordable in the Valley,” Schlundt said of the rental fees for equipment, which students can check out by the day, weekend or week.
It’s $40, for example, to rent a paddleboard from Base Camp for the weekend compared to $40 for a two-hour rental on Lake Pleasant.
While students have learned about Base Camp via word of mouth, Schlundt said employees still don’t seem to know about the campus resource. If they want to go camping, hiking, kayaking or paddleboarding, they also have access to Base Camp’s equipment.
“Over the summer, there were so many staff and faculty here (on campus) planning their own trips. We had stuff just sitting. Come and rent it,” he said.
Ultimately, Outdoor Rec just wants to fill a need with the campus community.
“We’re not here to make money,” added Schlundt. What’s more important is to get students plugged into the outdoors and into the GCU community at the same time. “We want students to have a better time at college, get off campus and build that culture and community with people."
And GCU excels at building that culture through Outdoor Recreation, considering Phoenix, on average, sees about 211 sunny days per year and ranked No. 2 among the country’s most-sunshine-prone cities, according to a ranking earlier this year by move.org: in short, the perfect conditions for plenty of outdoor activities.
In 2017, the University was named the Most Outdoorsy School in the Nation after winning its division in the Outdoor National Campus Challenge, described as a “Mother Nature-meets-March Madness” competition in which 100 colleges from across the nation went head to head for four weeks to see which one could get the most people outside and active.
Besides its equipment rentals, Base Camp is also the place to go for tips, information or to just learn about the outdoor life.
“Not only do we get these tents rented out, we use them for programming to educate and teach students how to prepare. Like I just taught an introduction-to-wilderness-medicine class, so basic preventative techniques and basic first aid in the wilderness,” Schlundt said.
Students can just drop in and speak to Base Camp technicians such as business administration senior Josiah Leonard, who did a discipleship outdoor program at his previous college in Canada. He loves to share his adventure experiences with other students.
They can ask questions about proper equipment or the conditions on certain hiking trails or if there are burn bans in specific areas.
Base Camp is an invaluable resource for students.
“I own a lot of my own gear,” said Leonard. “But a lot of my friends don’t, so it’s nice they have somewhere to go.”
Schlundt said some students might shrug off joining their friends on adventure trips just because they don’t have their own gear.
“There’s a huge stigma in the outdoor recreation industry that you have to have the best gear, and the barrier is sometimes high,” he said. “Ultimately, we don’t want that stigma, and we want to make sure that anyone who wants to go on an adventure can.”
Leonard added, “They can come with us, and they don’t have to feel like they’re lacking in some ways.”
What Schlundt loves about Base Camp is that students who might not have realized before that they wanted to go camping discover something new to love – and a GCU community that will help them embrace that newfound passion for the outdoors.
“It’s like, c’mon to Base Camp,” Schlundt said. “We got you.”
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.
Where: First floor of the Agave Apartments, Building 41
When: 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Mondays to Fridays
Information: myrec.gcu.edu (here’s the link)