Paddling paradise

Wright State students kayak, sleep under stars in unique outdoor recreation experience

From left: Wright State students, Eli Gerkensmeyer, Andrea Reed, Silas Hoam, Evan Barth, Seth Kelch and Kyle Melton posed for a photo during a kayaking and camping outdoor recreation trip in December. (Photos by Erin Compaleo)

Imagine the warm Florida sun on your face and the cool sand between your toes. Birds are singing and waves crashing just a few feet away.

That was the reality for Wright State students who dodged frigid Ohio temperatures for a transformational outdoor recreation experience.

In December, seven Wright State students traveled to southwest Florida for a weeklong kayaking and camping trip to the Ten Thousand Islands.

The group, which included Erin Compaleo, program manager for the Outdoor Resource Center (ORC), embarked from Marco Island and paddled around 16 miles per day, stopping to camp on various islands and sleeping on unfrequented beaches at night.

“The experience was truly once in a lifetime,” said Seth Kelch, a senior majoring in financial services. “This trip gave me time away from my phone and everyday life, which turned out to be extremely peaceful.”

Despite the name, several hundred islands make up the desolate Florida island chain with only Chokoloskee Island home to full-time residents at around 400. The secluded islands allowed students to see various wildlife such as sea turtles, dolphins, crabs, birds, sting rays and alligators.

“All of our students were worried about alligators,” said Compaleo. “We actually saw several gators from afar.”

The ORC offers 10 overnight excursions a year with the sea kayaking trip being one of the most unique.

“Everything is so peaceful, you fall asleep hearing the ocean and the flapping of birds’ wings,” said Compaleo.

Wright State students camped along the beach at Ten Thousand Islands.

Some students overcame their own anxieties of being so exposed to the environment while trying something new. Students were also challenged (in a good way) by difficult waves and rising tides while camping at night.

“I think anyone who is capable of attending a trip like this should definitely take the opportunity,” said Kelch, who plans to participate in an ORC backpacking trip during spring break.

Students paid $500 to participate in the seven-day excursion.

“The price of these trips is absolutely unbeatable,” said Kelch. “Starting new hobbies can be extremely expensive, so buy spending minimal money to try something new without making a big investment in gear is huge.”

The ORC has organized trips to the Florida island chain in previous years, but this was the first trip since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Compaleo said students learned they could do something they didn’t think they could accomplish while experiencing all of the health benefits of what the serenity of the outdoors could bring to their lives.

“It’s a really beautiful and peaceful experience for students after a stressful and challenging exam week and semester,” said Compaleo.

To learn more about the Outdoor Resource Center and upcoming trips and clinics visit

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