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The great outdoors

The end of the semester is near and there are a few things that come to every student’s mind: Exams, vacations and class registration.

For students who are about to graduate and need just a few more credits or those students who are tired of sitting in the uncomfortable desks in windowless Cooper Hall, USF’s Outdoor Experience class could be the answer.

Outdoor Experience teaches the skills that the everyday adventurer should know. Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, camping and rope climbing are just some topics covered in class.

In either the USF Riverfront Park or the PED 109 classroom, professor Eric Hunter makes sure his students take advantage of living in the diverse environment of Florida and, at the same time, informs students about different strategies to make their outdoor adventures safe and fun.

For many people who are interested or curious in the outdoors, this could be a way for you to explore the possibilities a bit further.

“I think the class is cool,” said Lily Lewis, a student of Hunter’s and an employee at the Recreation Center, “and it’s nice to see so many people taking it because it shows that people have an interest in outdoor activities.”

The syllabus includes a ropes challenge course, canoe instruction — the V-stroke is taught here — and a canoe trip down the Hillsborough River.

To break the ice and create camaraderie, students strap on harnesses and climb 15 feet to balance on beams and wires at the Riverfront Park’s rope challenge course. After that confidence-booster, students break into teams and use planks to make a bridge across tree stumps.

Kayaking is a must with Hunter. He teaches his students how to get into and out of a sea kayak at the USF pool and how to rescue a waterlogged kayak.

A hike through the preserved swamp off Fletcher Avenue and 56th Street is one of the highlights of this class, as are the many guest speakers like saltwater fishermen and representatives from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.

Not just anyone can hike the USF Ecological Swamp area. You usually have to be in an archeology class or conducting an archeological study to explore this area. There are no marked trails to get back there, so it is a unique adventure.

“My favorite part of this class was the trek out to the Indian mound,” said Lewis. “We walked through water and mud up to our knees. It was a special privilege to me because it is private property and not just anyone is allowed back.”

Cheryl Moon, another participant in Outdoor Experience, said taking the class has allowed her to do things she has never done before, including canoeing and kayaking.

Hunter said he likes teaching students facts and awareness of the Florida outdoors. He has taught the class for 6 years.

“The thing that is a highlight in the class is that the class goes back into the swamp where it exposes things to the students that they have never experienced or possibly had wanted to experience.” Hunter said. “It lowers inhibitions, and it educates them about what is in a swamp and what is dangerous. It’s like stepping out of your comfort zone; that’s what I like about it.

“There are so many people who have not experienced a lot of these different things. Whether it is the simple task of canoeing or whitewater sea kayak, it gives them a little taste of it, and what I do on top of that is I educate them about wilderness ethics.”

There are many places to canoe and kayak. According to, Florida has over 1,700 rivers — 40 of them major ones — and miles of serene shoreline along the west coast. There are also many the mangrove forested southwest coast and of course the Florida Keys.

So, go out this summer and experience the outdoors. Florida offers possibilities unlike any other state.