A couple years ago I was thinking about writing an article for Paddler
on good colleges for boaters. I solicited recommendations on rec.boats.paddle
and was thrilled with the deluge of responses I received. There are an
impressive number of colleges and universities that would make great
places for a boater to study.
My conclusion is that you should decide on the academic environment
you're interested in first and then consider locations. If you are
interested in small classes, lots of interaction with your professors and
a general education that will prepare you well for graduate school (a
Ph.D.), professional school (MBA, MD, etc.), teaching (a great profession
for a paddler, by the way . . .) or professions that require good writing,
thinking and speaking skills rather than highly career-specific training,
consider a liberal arts college. Indeed most folks enrolled in
Universities are, in fact, enrolled in the liberal arts programs within
their Universities (including Art, Chemistry, Economics, English, French,
History, Mathematics, Philosophy, Political Science and Physics majors).
Warren Wilson College and the University of North Carolina at Asheville
are often cited as great liberal arts colleges for paddlers. Both located
in or near Asheville; I teach at UNCA -- I'll leave my house
tomorrow morning at 9am and be back to take care of my daughter before 2pm
after paddling either the Green Narrows, Wilson Creek or the Rocky Broad,
depending on which is at the best level . . .[this was first posted in
March; during drier parts of the year I most often paddle the
Green or do mystery moves at Cowbell if I want to boat and be home
within five hours]). Another example is Ft. Lewis College in Durango, CO,
(I'd consider Ft. Lewis College strongly if I was you if I liked to do
other stuff besides boat, like ski and mountain bike, because this is most
of what you'll be doing in Durango during the school year). I'm pretty
sure Lewis and Clark College in Oregon is primarily a liberal arts
college; it too is located somewhere with a year round paddling season.
This is just scratching the surface -- there are lots of good liberal arts
colleges in good locations for paddlers.
If you want to be an engineer, you'll need to look at schools with
engineering programs. If a school has "university" in its title
it will often have an engineering program. I'd look at the U of WA, the U
of OR, West Virginia U, Georgia Tech (where Scott Shipley is studying
engineering and preparing for the U.S. slalom team), etc. If a degree from
an ivy league school tickles your fancy, be sure to look at Dartmouth and
its long-standing outdoor program. In my area you might want to look at
Appalachian State University in Boone or Western Carolina University in
Cullowhee (a couple of my paddling friends are enrolled in its nursing
program). And don't overlook Virginia Tech, Clemson U or the U of TN. Once
again this is just scratching the surface. My favorite place in the U.S.
to boat is California and I haven't even listed a CA school. For
school-year boating I'd look into Humboldt State in Arcata.
You'll note that almost all the places I've listed are either in the
southeast or the coastal mountains out west. The reason is that these are
the places with the warmer weather, gradient and abundant rainfall
conducive to plentiful school-year white water boating. Since most folks
are in school during the fall, winter and spring and can work and boat
anywhere they want in the summer, the fact that a school is located in a
place with great summer boating doesn't seem all that important to me.
The point is . . . figure out what you want from a school and from your
education first, then consider location. You'll have no problem finding a
school that meets your needs in a location with good boating and good
folks to boat with.
An additional thought: What is written above is a repost of something I
first wrote in response to an inquiry on BoaterTalk. Upon reflection I
would add now that being an "hour and a half" from river A or
"two hours" from river B" isn't a big improvement on being
three or four or even five hours away: if you are a serious student,
you're not going to have time to drive three hours round trip every day to
boat anyway, and if you're just boating weekends, what's an extra hour or
two or three of driving time? Being within 15 minutes or half an hour of
some form of water will let you work out every day, even if it is only
running gates or flatwater cartwheeling. I'd rank being very close to at
least moving water as a higher priority than being a little closer to a
prime run or two.
My school, for example, is located within fifteen minutes of two
25-gate slalom courses -- one on quarter-mile long series of shallow class
II ledges and the other on a slightly deeper section of class I moving
water. Both run year round, and just as important, the weather is warm
enough to train almost every day during the school year. In addition, the
ledgy section, while not the Ocoee or South Fork of the American, is deep
enough and powerful enough in spots to squirt, splat and cartwheel. This
makes it possible for our students to get a workout in every day if they
like even if they don't always have an entire morning or afternoon to
boat. Though none are given specific mention in my earlier post, just
think of all the great schools in the vicinity of Washington DC, Richmond
VA and Columbia SC. All would have warmish weather most of the winter and
are located on or near major rivers with short sections of moderate to
major gradient. You might have a bit longer to drive on the weekends, but
just think how polished your basic skills will be.
-- Chris (BA UC-Berkeley, Ph.D. U of PA: both too far from
whitewater to paddle after class!)
This post first appeared in BoaterTalk
March 5, 1999. To learn more about colleges and universities in the
Asheville area, visit the "Schools" section of the Ashevegas!