What defines a college? Some people say it’s the food. Some people think it’s the parties. Well I say it’s the adventure. It’s being able to drive any direction for a few miles and embark on a daring mountainous hike. It’s having some of the best mountain biking trails in all of Virginia only minutes from campus. It’s waking up on a snowy morning to an email canceling class and being able to drive 20 minutes to Massanutten Ski Resort. This is the life here at James Madison University and the best part is that there is an adventure team of faculty and students ready to lead you to any adventure you hear echoing over the Blue Ridge Mountains, begging you to go outside and play.

“JMU is unique in that we are sandwiched in between a national forest and a national park,” says Guy deBrun, the Assistant Director of Adventure and TEAM Programs.

He is the one you can thank for scheduling many of JMU’s adrenaline pumping activities such as the recent spring break trip he co-led to Patagonia. Guy began spreading his love and passion for adventure when he attended James Madison University as a graduate student and became the graduate assistant for the adventure program. Opportunities led Guy to work for the outdoor programs at various other universities, but ultimately he was drawn back to JMU by its allure of a smaller atmosphere, beautiful location, and the growing opportunities of the adventure department.

“All the access to public lands gives us plenty of opportunities to hike, bike, rock climb, and so much more. The opportunities are endless,” Guy tells me when I ask why he thinks JMU is a top adventure college.

IMG_3671 (1)But you actually don’t even have to leave campus to quench your thirst for adventure. If you take a step inside JMU’s gym, which is in the process of doubling its current size, you’ll notice the 33 foot rock wall, led by the Adventure Program, that is sure to please beginners and experts alike. Need to be outside? No problem. Head to UPark and feast your eyes upon the towering pine trees that nest the high and low ropes course. Led by a staff that is passionate about the outdoors, the ropes course is a hot spot for most all clubs and organizations on campus.

IMG_3833 (1)Cassidy Harvey is one of these passionate instructors.

“Groups come to the ropes course looking to have a good time but when they leave, they walk out with new teamwork skills that can carry over to other aspects of life,” she explains. Not only is Cassidy a Lead TEAM Facilitator for the ropes course, but she also works as an Adventure Trip Leader for the University. Only a sophomore, she has already led hiking trips, canoeing trips, and backpacking trips that attract a wide variety of JMU students.

When Cassidy decided to attend school here, she was not what you would call an outdoorsy person.

“I came here because I liked the people and it’s a beautiful campus with great scenery. The job looked fun so I took it and Guy began training us, teaching us how to kayak, build a fire, camp, and other specific skills,” she explains. “Now, every trip I go on puts determination in me to do something bigger. I can be very proud but at the same time I am so humbled by the huge mountains.”

As James Madison University’s adventure program continues to prosper, providing once in a lifetime opportunities to all students here, they still remain humbled by earth’s natural beauties. That’s part of what makes it such a unique and wonderful program. No matter where the trail leads, the river takes the kayak, or the rocks lead the climber, Cassidy, Guy, and the rest of the Adventure Program are there and enthusiastic to provide students with a glimpse of the powerful and inspiring ways of nature.