NIU ‘outdoorsman’ helps students experience the wilderness

By Aurora Schnorr

On the outside, junior geology major Keith Gortowski may seem like just another NIU student, but this guy might be the closest thing NIU has to Bear Grylls.

When Gortowski first came to NIU, he was looking for a group in which he could release his inner outdoorsman. That’s when he found the Outing Centre’s booth at his freshman orientation. He’s been hooked ever since.

Gortowski has worked as a trip leader for the Outdoor Adventures program for nearly two years, leading groups on backpacking trips through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin, and canoe trips in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the Boundary Waters.

“We do lots of different trips,” Gortowski said. “We do backpacking trips, we do rock climbing trips, we do kayaking, canoeing. If it deals with the outdoors, we pretty much do it. We used to do caving trips, but they shut down the caving system for a while…We do everything.”

The Outing Centre provides students outdoor trip planning, gear and ample university-sponsored opportunities to get out of DeKalb and into the wild. Trips are offered many weekends, and longer getaways are available over school breaks. Over Thanksgiving break, NIU Outdoor Adventures will be backpacking through the Smokey Mountains.

“Just tell your family there’s multiple Thanksgivings,” Gortowski said. “Tell your family, ‘I’m gonna skip it this year, I’ll come back next year for Thanksgiving,’ ’cause that one is going to be a really cool trip.”

The centre offers students gear rentals and trips at a cheaper cost than if planned independently. Weekend trips generally cost $15 to $30.

“Compared to normal costs, if you were to do it alone or through an outfitter, it is incredibly cheap. The university helps pay for this stuff; They give us money for all these activities. We have the funding to provide trips for a much cheaper cost.”

Gortowski’s next trip with Outdoor Adventures is an overnight bike and camp trip on Oct. 22.

“I’m going to be leading that one,” Gortowski said. “It’s going to be a good time. We’re going back to Kettle Moraine to do some biking. Hopefully there’s good weather and it should be just beautiful, like, fall colors.”

You can visit Gortowski and see what Outdoor Adventures are all about in the Outings Centre in the back of the Student Recreation Center. Just follow the green footprints.