Nestled in the mountains of Banner Elk, N.C., Lees-McRae College is a hub for outdoor adventure and recreation for its students and staff.
Lees-McRae College is officially the first “small school,” with an undergrad of fewer than 5,000 people, to claim the title of Top Adventure College. We reached out to give them the news and they couldn’t have been more excited. It was a huge victory over the giant Liberty University.
Before we were able to chat with the Lees-McRae team, they had to finish their graduation ceremonies. Once the Bobcats bid farewell to their 2018 graduates, we caught up with them to chat about the victory and what makes them, in their eyes, the Top Adventure College. Katie Wall is the Assistant Professor of Outdoor Recreation Management, and Bailey Stewart is the Assistant Director of Admissions. Jack Perry is a student at Lees-McRae.
The Bobcats really pulled out all the stops this year. You created videos, rallied students, and saturated social media. How does it feel to be the first ever small college to claim TAC?
Katie Wall: We are unbelievably excited, proud, and honored. It was a true community effort, and we are so thankful to everyone for their continued excitement and determination. We know that we are a small college, but we have big adventures and big dreams. We are so happy that all the wonderful things that are happening at Lees-McRae are being highlighted.
Bailey Stewart: Amazing. We wanted this title and to see the school come together to help make it happen brought me so much joy. In the midst of a very busy season at the College, students, faculty, staff, friends, family, and more came together to show our followers that we deserve to be the Top Adventure College. To see our future Bobcats get excited and share with their families and friends, “hey, my future school could win the Top Adventure College, go vote!” was unbelievable.
In your eyes, what makes Lees-McRae College the Top Adventure College?
Katie Wall: To me, Lees-McRae is a Top Adventure College not simply because of its incredible views and ways to enjoy outside, but because of the passion of the students, faculty, and staff as well as support from our administration, President Dr. Barry M. Buxton and our President-elect Dr. Herbert L. King, Jr. Our location is like no other. It allows us to have meaningful and beneficial partnerships with local outdoor companies including Beech Mountain Resort, Grandfather Mountain, and Highland Outfitters.
Bailey Stewart: We are the gem of the High Country. You look out your residence hall and see frosty Beech Mountain. Or you walk through campus to stumble upon the Elk River that runs through campus and gives us this breathtaking waterfall. Or, you drive less than ten minutes down the road and you’re cruising down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Everywhere you look there is an outdoor adventure waiting for you. That is what makes us the Top Adventure College. We have students on campus that have a true passion for the outdoors. With their help, they make the campus an oasis for those outdoor lovers.
Jack Perry: For me, being outside is stepping right out the door. You don’t have to drive half an hour to get there, you are basically already in the wilderness. Our mountain bike trails are amazing and there are a few fun waterfalls that are right next to campus. We also have Hawksbill and the Profile Trail within 15 minutes of campus, which is great on those days when you want to go for a hike.
Located in Banner Elk, you’re surrounded by national forests and state parks, what is it about the area that cultivates such an adventurous and outdoorsy lifestyle at Lees-McRae?
Katie Wall: You are surrounded by the mountains every day as you drive to campus, walk to class, or take your lunch break. It is hard not to fall in love with Banner Elk with all of this inspiration around you. There is also a long-standing history and tradition of outdoor adventure and environmental appreciation here at Lees-McRae, thanks to strong women like Outdoor Recreation Management adjunct instructor Dee Thomas (featured in your Feb 2018 Edition, Women are Forces of Nature) and Director of the May Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, Nina Fischesser.
Bailey Stewart: I have seen many mountains, but there is something about the Blue Ridge Mountains that always amazes me—and has always amazed our students. With these parks and outdoor adventures at your fingertips, it encourages our students to take advantage of it. There is such a big value in spending time outside, and we make it easy here! The students who may have never hiked before can’t contain themselves when they see the mountains and think, “I want to climb to the top!”
“For the four-year journey of college, Lees-McRae provides so many options to our young people, with the close proximity of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail, not to mention the trails, waterfalls, campsites, ski slopes, hiking and biking trails within minutes of our residence halls. It provides them a great outdoor student experience.”
– Craig McPhail, Vice President of Athletics and Club Sports
What outdoor program is Lees-McRae particularly proud of?
Katie Wall: We are particularly proud of our outdoor certification program and our expeditions. Students, faculty, staff, and the community can benefit from NOLS Wilderness Medicine, Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics, League of American Bicyclists certifications, and come soon the North Carolina Environment Education Certification. Our new expedition program will offer students from all academic disciplines to engage in trips, including Expedition Into the Wild, a historical and literary exploration of the Western National Parks; Italy Adventure Wellness and Ancient Medicine, a biology, health, and wellness program combined with a wide variety of Italian outdoor adventures; and Hawaii Water Sports and the Environment, an in-depth ocean and coastal skill development program with a focus on environmental ethics.
I would also like to highlight our Outdoor Recreation Management’s annual Outdoor Legends event that brings together individuals who have contributed significantly to the High Country outdoors through education, service, scholarship, or development. They have made a lifelong dedication to sharing their passion and improving the outdoor community for all. This event allows these Legends the opportunity to share their stories and career success with students, and network with the community. It is a powerful, meaningful, and impactful event.
Bailey Stewart: We have much pride in one of our newest programs, Outdoor Recreation Management. With being one of the only programs of its kind under a School of Business, it leads and encourages students to go after that outdoor dream they have. The students learn practical knowledge about the outdoors that will prepare them to be successful in the outdoor realm.
What would you like the outdoor enthusiast student considering Lees-McRae to know?
Katie Wall: If you’re interested in a career in outdoor recreation, environmental education, cycling, wildlife biology, wildlife rehabilitation and want to live in a place that values community, the outdoors, and fun than Lees-McRae College might be just the place you’re looking for. As we like to say, we are small but we are mighty.
Bailey Stewart: If you are an outdoor lover, there is no better place than to study in the High Country. You will have the opportunity to explore your passion for the outdoors while gaining an education that will set you up to pursue your dreams. There is nothing better than that!
Jack Perry: I would tell them we have many great courses that they can take and programs they can become involved in. Whatever tickles your fancy, we have hiking, biking, whitewater rafting, Frisbee golf course, and fly-fishing…just to name a few.
To get a better look at Lees-McRae College, be sure to check out their website. Congratulations again to the Bobcats!