The announcement by Fort Lewis College that the school is purchasing a river-running company may strike many in the Four Corners as an odd way to spend money at this point in time.
After all, FLC, which has seen an 11 percent drop in enrollment over the past nine years, announced a $4.16 million budget cut from the 2018-19 academic year in April, a cut that included laying off 11 staff members.
In addition, the school is in the midst of a change of leadership as its focus turns to improving its recruitment strategies and dealing with what many on the rim see as an identity crisis.
But looking deeper, the purchase can be considered a bold move at just the right time, and for some of the same reasons given above. While the name of the river enterprise and the purchase price have not been disclosed because of ongoing negotiations, nearly $120,000 toward the purchase has already been raised, sparked by a pledge of $25,000 in matching funds from a generous couple who sees the purchase as an opportunity not to be missed.
It is important to note that FLC stands to acquire more than river gear. There is enough equipment to outfit groups of up to 60 students and staff – or alumni donors and other benefactors – on multi-day academic or adventure trips. But at the heart of the pending sale are river permits for the San Juan River in Utah, the Chama River in New Mexico and the Salt River in Arizona, and the dependable access the permits provide.
The immediate beneficiaries will be the student body, especially those in the Adventure Education program, which offers both major and minor degrees, and the students who take advantage of the popular Outdoor Pursuits program that allows students to get out and explore the region’s diverse alpine, desert and river environments year-round.
In a letter written as part of the fundraising effort, Outdoor Pursuits founder Dolph Kuss, Outdoor Pursuits Director Brett Davis and Lee Frazer, chair of Adventure Education, explained that the purchase will benefit many other programs as well, including anthropology, art, biology, business, environmental science, geology and teacher education, in effect, turning the river channels into outdoor laboratories.
“Access to these rivers will help boost recruitment, retention, curriculum development across campus and alumni/donor experiences,” the letter reads.
We agree. And hope that the school is able to complete what looks to be a sound purchase.