Students make a splash with a reforestation project in Costa Rica during a whitewater rafting trip

For a group of Regis students, a recent spring break trip was a chance the experience the natural beauty of Costa Rica by whitewater rafting, climbing and rappelling next to waterfalls — and getting their hands dirty planting trees along the Pacuare River.

Eight students, Assistant Director of Student Life Aly Granholm and Associate Director of Recreation Gretchen Weber Goode took part in the Outdoor Adventure Program’s first spring break trip since the COVID-19 pandemic, making sure to add a service component to their itinerary. OAP, which offers trips led by staff, gives students a chance to rent gear and travel to enjoy the outdoors beyond campus. During the Costa Rica trip, students worked with the Pacuare Outdoor Center, which said the Regis group was the first to offer to complete a service project as part of their stay.

“Being a Jesuit university, volunteering and service projects are always kind of in the back of our minds,” Weber Goode said. “I felt like it was important.”

The Pacuare River, which flows through rainforests before emptying into the Caribbean, has become a popular choice for tourists who enjoy its whitewater rafting opportunities and the exotic animals they are likely to spot along the way, including monkeys, toucans and iguanas.

During their trip, the Regis group learned about the positive impacts of reforestation work on Costa Rica’s economy, which relies heavily on tourism. The country has made strides in recent years to reverse decades of deforestation.

Regis senior Luis Oronia, an accounting major, said guides in Costa Rica helped explain the impact of planting new trees in the country. 

“The reforestation doesn't just impact now. It creates impacts that are going to last generations,” he said. “You're leaving your footprint here. You're doing a good thing for the environment. And it was really nice to do that kind of stuff.”

The Regis group’s trailblazing service work was marked with a new sign along a road near the Pacuare that reads “Regis University Reforestation Project March 2024.”

For Weber Goode, the reforestation project was a chance to not only experience Costa Rica, but also to give back. 

“I think with any tourist group, you just want to make sure that you leave a good impact and not take away,” Weber Goode said.

Oronia agreed. “You're whitewater rafting and you're ziplining and you're the rainforest. You're admiring the beauty, but to get hands on, to put your hands in the dirt, and plant this tree ,and know that you're  leaving a mark — it’s a full-circle moment. You're enjoying the beauty of nature, but now you're also getting to impact it in a positive way for a long time.”

Oronia encouraged students to take part in upcoming OAP trips.

“It's a good time to learn about yourself, meet new people, make new memories with people have great connections,” he said. “And when you come back, you end up having more friends.”