May 13, 2022 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Cecilia Timberg
Outdoor Education is housed in a stout stucco building on the east side of campus, close enough to Shove Chapel that the hourly bell is a staple of its soundtrack. It’s home to the Ahlberg Gear House, the Bike and Ski Co-op, and the Outdoor Education administration offices. Kelsey Brackley, the newly hired associate director of outdoor education, has made the Outdoor Education building her second home since her arrival in January.
“It’s going fast paced, which I knew going in, but when Colorado College says fast paced, it’s a whole different animal,” said Brackley.
From the moment Brackley arrived at CC, she was simultaneously learning the specifics of the outdoor education program and beginning planning for the class of 2026’s New Student Orientation. She feels like the past four months have gone by in the blink of an eye. As the school year is ending, she is finding herself as busy as ever, but well-adjusted to the accelerated rhythms of CC.
“There are a lot of differences between where I am at now and where I have been, but I am really happy here,” said Brackley. She has been in outdoor education for 10 years working as a guide, teaching outdoor recreation education at universities, and managing college outdoor programs.
She started exploring the outdoors as an undergraduate student, when, at the time, she was majoring in Cultural Anthropology and Cognitive Psychology. She thought that she was going to spend her career doing humanitarian work overseas.
“My first river trip was spectacular to me. Rapids can be scary; I remember vividly thinking the first night that I hoped we would make it. By night three I knew that this is what I meant to do for the rest of my life,” said Brackley. Those seven days she spent rafting Desolation Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Yukon realigned her life trajectory.
Now, her day-to-day life looks like planning in the Outdoor Education building, overseeing the facilities at the Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym across campus, and leading outdoor education trips. “You will often see me going down Cache La Poudre moving between the East and West Campus,” said Brackley.
Although busy, Brackley loves the volume of trips that the Block Plan allows Outdoor Education to send out. “It is almost mind boggling how many trips we send out – everything from taking e-bikes out on a bakery tour of Colorado Springs to spring break backpacking trips. There is pretty much always something going on here,” said Brackley.
Brackley has found that, at times, the volume of activities offered can set high expectations for students to be doing something with every moment of their time. “There is quite literally something to do every day – maybe the Sustainability Office has an event, or the Butler Center is holding a forum,” said Brackley. “It seems like we are always fighting for students’ attention.”
This is one reason why Brackley hopes her next major project is to work more with field education. Field courses taught at CC often use rentals from the Gear House, but increased coordination with the Outdoor Education staff would allow the program to expand the student base that it is able to reach.
“Going on a recreational trip isn’t necessarily the dream for everybody,” said Brackley. “But making sure that we always have some sort of value to offer every student on this campus, or whether that be in supporting field components or class work or our rental programsis a value of mine.”
“I would feel really proud to be a part of a program that’s entirely student-led,” said Brackley about her dreams for the future of the Outdoor Education program. “So, students proposing trips, students leading trips, students exploring together, students trying something for the first time are students coming to us as staff and telling us what they want and what they desire. I like their vision guiding for the future of the program.” She believes that this is the only way to keep up with the changing interests and values of CC students, which is the role of Outdoor Education.
As the school year ends and the beautiful spring weather populates campus with hammocks, slacklines, and students studying on the quad for their exams, Brackley might be walking the seven minutes between the Outdoor Education building and the climbing gym or leading a weekend rafting trip in Moab. Either way, her passion for providing students access to the outdoors permeates every aspect of her life.