Bulletin News

SUNY Cortland among nation's best schools for outdoor experiences


It’s a beautiful world out there, and SUNY Cortland is among a select group of schools recognized for offering students opportunities to experience the best Mother Nature has to offer.  

That’s according to the Bear Grylls-founded Outdoors.com, which ranks Cortland among “the best college and university choices for outdoor and nature lovers.” 

The website was co-founded in 2023 by Grylls, a survival expert, author and TV host who’s spoken about the importance of incorporating the outdoors into education. 

That’s a breath of fresh air to Rhonda Pitoniak ’01, M ’16, director of Cortland’s William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education, who agrees with Grylls. 

“It is important to disconnect from electronics and to connect with the people and space surrounding you,” she said. 

Students hike at the William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

For its list of 12 campuses selected from around the country, Outdoors.com looked for regions with good access to the outdoors and schools near those areas that had strong outdoor programs. Cortland, described in the article as “well known for its outdoor recreation major,” was matched alongside the University of Colorado Boulder, the University of Miami and other schools that stress the educational value of off campus experiences. 

“This is wonderful recognition for one of the most unique aspects of our campus,” said SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum.  

“We can’t tell SUNY Cortland’s story without mentioning the university’s special connection to the outdoors, especially in the Adirondack wilderness. It makes me very proud when our students seize the opportunity to learn or do research through our one-of-a-kind outdoor classroom, in programs spanning history, childhood education, conservation biology and many others.” 

The university owns the Huntington Memorial Camp at W. H. Parks Family Outdoor Center on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Park, along with its sister campus, named Antlers, located along the same lakeshore.  

Canoeing at Huntington Memorial Camp is one of the many ways that SUNY Cortland lets students experience the natural world.

Cortland’s location in Central New York was also a factor. Outdoors.com reviewers liked the area’s access to wilderness and hiking trails, along with its proximity to the Finger Lakes, ski resorts and state parks. 

Outdoor Recreation, a major within the university’s Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies Department, lets students find career paths that embrace nature, including outdoor leadership, natural resource and recreation management, camp management and environmental and cultural interpretation.  

As the longest-running recreation program in New York state, it’s known for the more than 95 percent employment rate of graduates, creating and operating the international Inclusive Recreation Resource Center, and for co-founding the Coalition for Education in the Outdoors, a 37-year-old network of outdoor education scholars. 

Top among its unique advantages is Camp Huntington — the only National Historic Landmark in the SUNY system — which provides study opportunities across majors as varied as physical education to chemistry. 

Students explore the Labrador Hollow Unique Natural Area in Tully, N.Y., as part of the Outdoor Pursuits program.

Thanks to its rustic location among the scenic peaks of New York state, Cortland’s home in the Adirondacks is also perfect for programs like Outdoor Pursuits, which loans equipment and organizes student adventure trips through Recreational Sports. 

“SUNY Cortland’s students are fortunate to be located in the center of the state allowing easy access to many parks and natural features,” Pitoniak said. “The Outdoor Education Centers owned by the university consisting of Hoxie Gorge Nature Preserve, the Raquette Lake facilities and Brauer Field Station offer both academic and non-academic opportunities for our students.” 

Hoxie Gorge and Brauer are both field stations, the first located seven miles south of the main campus in Cortland and Brauer situated eight miles southwest of Albany, N.Y.