Organizers at a university outdoor centre hope to get northern Ontario residents – and international students – more involved in the great outdoors.

Sudbury's Laurentian University Outdoor Centre officially opened its doors in May and rents outdoor adventure gear to students and staff.

Rentals are taken from equipment used in Laurentian's  Adventure Leadership Program, and includes more than 40 canoes, sea kayaks, tents, backpacks and other outdoor gear.

A big part of the Outdoor Centre is the expertise brought by the staff, said Jean Benoit, the outdoor equipment manager with the centre. The centre is operated by the School of Human Kinetics, and is run by several Laurentian alumni, including Benoit, who graduated from the school's physical education program.

"We’ve got three professors and students who are willing to bring people out on guided trips and share their love of the outdoors," Benoit said.

'True Canadian experience'

Those guided trips sometimes include people who aren’t too familiar with the northern Ontario wilderness.

Dozens of exchange students from Gujarat Technological University in India are currently spending six weeks on the Laurentian University campus taking computer engineering classes.

"In India we love nature and the natural place over here is very good," said Tarun Scharma, the co-ordinator of the exchange program with Gujarat University. "The students are very excited to go … canoeing and hiking and everything."

Some of the students have never even been in a lake, Scharma said, not to mention a overnight camping experience.

Organizers with the Outdoor Centre offer a number of outdoor excursions, including a one-night camping trip that the centre promises will be a "true Canadian experience." It involves a short hike, campfire stories, nature survival tips and a night spent on the shore of Lake Laurentian.

"The international students seemed like a really perfect opportunity for us to offer our excursions," said Dave Higginson, a graduate of Laurentian’s Adventure Leadership Program and a guide for the Outdoor Centre. "It's like a taste of what you can really experience here."

First of its kind

Other than catering to international students in search of a summer adventure, the Outdoor Centre says it has already rented gear to a number of Sudbury residents.

"The beauty of it is that you can take your canoe or kayak and go anywhere you like," said Benoit, adding there’s no other place within the city that allows for this flexibility.

"You don't have to use it in the lakes in the area, you can bring it to your camp, if you like."

In addition to equipment rentals, the Outdoor Centre also offers excursions, which teach participants wilderness survival, canoeing, or hiking. There are also guided trips on the French, Spanish, and Dumoine rivers.

Right now, the Outdoor Centre’s equipment is scattered in different parts of campus, including an older building behind the university’s track stadium and a gravel area next to the Ben Avery athletics building.

Eventually, Benoit said he’d like to see a single location built for the centre as part of the university’s campus modernization plan.

"That is the goal, but I guess we’ll just have to see where it goes from here," he said.