Adam Auerbach: Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador
Thanks to this Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador and a new national monument, getting outside at Maine's Bates College is a walk in the park.
Research shows that attrition from outdoor pursuits is greatest during the post-secondary-school years. In an effort to combat that attrition and ensure young adults maintain or develop a lifelong love of the outdoors, Outdoor Foundation and the National Park Service teamed up to create the Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador program. The NPS sponsored 25 college students across the country who are charged with increasing outdoor engagement at their respective schools through programming and recreation opportunities. In this series, we’re sharing a few of their stories.
Adam Auerbach almost always finds the silver lining in tough situations, like the time he and a group of friends got caught in a freak late-autumn snowstorm in Nevada’s Ruby Mountains. With one friend showing early signs of hypothermia but too far to turn around safely, the team sent Auerbach ahead to set up camp and start a campfire. Burdened by an overweight pack, loneliness, cold and quickly fading daylight, Aurbach was miserable and had all but vowed to give up backpacking. But as he crested the last summit before reaching the campsite, a herd of bighorn sheep running across the valley below transformed his attitude—solidifying his desire to make a career in the outdoors.
Likewise, when his first college, not far from his hometown of Silver Spring, Maryland, proved an academic and social misfit, he saw it as an opportunity to transfer to a school that would put him solidly on the path to a career with the National Park Service. As it turns out Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, was a breath of fresh air—figuratively and literally, as it borders some of the most wondrous wild areas in the Northeast, including Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park.
“Bates is near so many great places, and has a student body that’s largely interested in the outdoors,” he says. “Plus, the people are collaborative, down-to-earth.”
Once Auerbach made the switch to his new school, he wasted no time connecting with those down-to-earth students. He became the cabins and trails director of the Bates Outing Club and led trips along the Appalachian Trail. An internship with the National Park Service also gave Auerbach, an environmental studies major, great material for his honors thesis on the eco-centric discourse surrounding a potential new national park in Maine (“Maine History: A Century of National Park Conflict: Class, Geography, and the Changing Values of Conservation Discourse in Maine”). His research took him to Baxter State Park frequently, where public sentiment about the proposed designation was mixed. The recent news that Obama designated the Katahdin Woods outside of Baxter as a National Monument was bittersweet for Auerbach. “I’m excited to see significant acreage of the beautiful Maine North Woods protected,” says Auerbach, but he noted that plenty of locals during his research expressed disapproval of the proposed park and who likely aren’t happy with the monument designation.
Acadia National Park, meanwhile, also has a special personal place in Auerbach’s heart, thanks to the time he’s spent there with the diverse student body of Bates amidst a diverse landscape. “Acadia has a great diversity of [recreation] options that go from incredibly easy and accessible for beginners and families to harder hikes that require some experience and fitness, so there’s something for everyone,” Auerbach says of the 47,000-acre park’s allure. “Also, the combination of mountain and ocean is unique.”
As an Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador, Auerbach worked with the Office of Intercultural Education (OIE) at Bates to bring 50 people to Acadia. “It was a great experience,” he reports, giving credit to OIE Dean Julisa De Los Santos for helping to plan and publicize events tailored toward getting more students outside. “The sponsors at Outdoor Nation provided funding throughout the year,” he adds.
When not summiting peaks, Auerbach has organized on-campus summits to discuss making Bates even more outdoors-oriented, and he has led hiking trips in Grafton Notch State Park and trail-maintenance trips on Bemis Mountain. Recently, he also organized a visit to campus by Audrey Peterman, author of Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care. Peterman’s visit was also partially made possible through Outdoor Nation funding. “The most positive part of her visit was a dinner at the OIE,” he says. “Audrey talked to students about her experience visiting public lands in the U.S. and inspired others to get outside visiting these places.”
That, in turn, has inspired Auerbach to continue drawing Bates students outside to parks right in their back yard. “Students are so busy, and have so many draws on their time that it’s hard to get people to events when there are so many other events they could be attending or work they should be doing,” he admits. “But Maine is a beautiful state,” says Auerbach, “and we should enjoy any opportunity to explore it.”
Think you’d make a great Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador or know someone who would. Applications are available online now.