Tori Ward: Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador

It's hard to say if she's an outdoorist by nature or by nurture—or by some combination of the two. Either way, she's carrying the torch for the next generation.

By Sarah Tuff Dunn February 7, 2017

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.

Many things get passed down from generation to generation: gold pocket watches, antique furniture and favorite family recipes. But what Tori Ward inherited from her grandfather is invaluable and requires no winding, no polishing and no long hours in a hot kitchen. It was his love of the outdoors. The Ward family camped several times a year or bunked up at Tori’s grandparents’ cabin for fishing and hunting expeditions. 

“My favorite memories growing up are of camping trips with my family and walks in the woods with my dad and grandpa,” she wrote in her application to the Outdoor Foundation’s Outdoor Nation Campus Ambassador program.  

Read about the success of the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge. Download the 2016 impact report

When Ward began studying at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, however, she began to hunt for something else: new goals centered on getting outside and helping others do the same. “If I’m not being challenged or learning new things, I’m not happy,” wrote Ward, who began working for the college’s Outdoor Pursuit (OP) program the first semester of her freshman year and who exemplifies the mission of the Outdoor Nation Ambassador program. 

Outdoor Nation combines the assets and infrastructure of a college campus with the ideas, energy and ingenuity of college students to engage and activate a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts. If you share our belief that inspiring the next generation of outdoorists is critical to the future of our industry and environment, join us by becoming a national sponsor.
Contact Ryan Lauer to learn more. 

Ward also became a certified Wilderness First Responder, signed up for every rock climbing and ice climbing trip offered by St. Scholastica, and became president of Northern Explorers, a club that works to raise money for the OP. Those credentials, along with a deep connection to the college’s community, helped Ward earn the ambassadorship. Ward also participated in the 2016 Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge, for which she and other St. Scholastica students visited the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and Superior National Forest, among other stunning spots. Check out some of her favorite outings here. 

In support of Outdoor Nation Ambassador programming, the National Park Service provides both funding and guidance to ambassadors like Ward. Outdoor Nation also works with REI, The North Face, Chaco, Adidas Outdoor, KEEN, Grand Trunk, The Conservation Fund. These national sponsors provide incentives to reward participation in the Campus Challenge. It’s all in an effort to grow the tribe of outdoorists, especially among college-age young adults who may or may not have previous experience outdoors. 

“I’ve been [learning] how to reach out to people who don’t typically attend outdoor outings,” reports Ward. “We do a really good job at creating a welcoming environment and gearing a lot of our trips for beginners.” 

St. Scholastica’s OP program also works with an adaptive climbing group, called Courage Kenny, on Wednesday nights, and collaborates with the Duluth Climbers Coalition and the University of Minnesota Duluth to provide afterschool programs for at-risk youth.  

Duluth: The Envy of All Outdoorists? 
A recent spate of smart and strategic recreation development has earned the Minnesota town a reputation as “the next great place.” 

Ward is enrolled in St. Scholastica’s nursing program, a demanding commitment that she juggles along with working two jobs, volunteering with the St. Louis County Rescue Squad and her ongoing love affair with the outdoors. So scheduling everything has been challenging—but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love to introduce people to the outdoors or teach them a new skill,” says Ward. With her help, St. Scholastica finished 6th in the overall standings for the ONCC with more than 3,000 outdoor activities logged by 284 students. “It’s so rewarding to help someone succeed when trying new things.” We think her grandfather would agree. 

If you share our belief that inspiring the next generation of outdoorists is critical to the future of our industry and environment, join us by becoming a national sponsor.
Contact Ryan Lauer to learn more. 

If you’d like to get your company involved with the Outdoor Nation Campus Challenge or any of the Outdoor Foundation’s youth engagement grant programs, visit