Chad Thatcher moving on from CMU’s Outdoor Program |

Chad Thatcher moving on from CMU’s Outdoor Program

Brittany Markert
Chad Thatcher took many adventures alongside students during his 13-year stint with Colorado Mesa University's Outdoor Program.
Submitted photo |


The Outdoor Program is Colorado Mesa University’s headquarters for Outdoor Adventure and Education. They are a Student Fee funded organization, whose purpose is to offer and promote affordable, safe, environmentally conscious, common adventure trips, outdoor trainings, and equipment rental.

The Outdoor Program serves as an informational resource and learning center to the CMU community regarding outdoor recreation. No experience is necessary to enjoy the adventures.

Services Offered:

Clinics — Free outdoor skills workshops

Equipment Rentals — We rent out all of our gear for a very low price.

Wednesday Night Wanderings — Free weekly slideshows, presentations, guest speakers, and movies open to the public; 7:30 p.m.

Thursday Afternoon Outings — Free weekly outdoor activities; 2 p.m.

Kayak Sessions — Free roll sessions every Monday at the pool; 8 p.m.

Accredited Classes in Rock Climbing, Kayaking, Rafting, Telemark Skiing, Orienteering and more...

Common Adventure Trips — Free to set up and post any of your own common adventure trips.

Common Adventure Trips:

Backcountry Skiing/Snowboarding


Rock Climbing



Mountain Biking


Ice Climbing




Sky Diving

Thirteen years, 54 countries, 29 trips, 1,000’s of students, hundreds of miles traveled and a million memories have all occurred under Chad Thatcher’s watch as director of Colorado Mesa University’s Outdoor Program (OP).

Chad Thatcher, who will be leaving Colorado Mesa University, is off to start a new job as a professor at Southern Oregon University, and will be working to create a master’s program for outdoor adventure instructors.

“Grand Junction is more home to me than any other place I have lived,” Thatcher said. “I’m excited about moving on and starting a new chapter, but I am extremely sad to be leaving amazing people, friends and the outdoor playground that has shaped who I am today.”

Ryan Dutch, the OP’s current assistant coordinator, will take over Thatchers position.

“Chad has laid the foundation for helping students pursue their passion for making change,” Dutch said. “We aren’t here to get people outside, we are here to change lives and he has created that passion that our students buy into.”

Thatcher started his thirteen year stint with CMU in 2002, when the OP was situated in a small space in the back of the old college center and CMU was still called Mesa State College. The program originally began in the 1970s. It would take trips to hike local 14ers, raft down the Colorado River and ice climbing trips in the surrounding region.

The program has since moved into a new space of its own, renting out equipment each week to students and taking them on life-changing adventures and trips around the world. Trips have included heading to the Great Wall of China and visiting Machu Picchu in Peru.

Ron Lunsford, now the program director of Colorado Discover Ability (a nonprofit that takes disabled families on recreations trips), has been involved with the OP, as a student and alumni, for around 10 years. His first trip was ice climbing in Ouray. He has been hooked on outdoor adventures ever since.

“It’s been an incredible journey,” Lunsford said. “It’s been a lot of fun for sure. You get to experience life and explore the world around you. I have got every job I have ever had because of the OP.”

While Thatcher is moving on, Dutch hopes to continue spreading the tradition of making memories for students.

“The biggest thing during this transition period is to not let the spirit of the OP die,” Dutch said. “Chad has created all of this and we are going to run with it and continue to be the best.”

Over the years, Thatcher has created a staple to CMU with its annual international trips and weekend getaways at low costs to students.

“I hope people continue to come and be inspired by the outdoor program,” Thatcher said. “I’m excited Ryan will be taking my spot. I feel like I’m leaving it in capable hands.”

The program has had thousands of students over the years and some have continued their journey with the OP as assistants and employees including Dutch and Lunsford.

“I just want to say thank you, Grand Junction,” Thatcher said. “I’m thankful for the time here and proud of what has been done.”

Dutch added that not only is CMU losing a vital member with Thatcher, but the community as a whole.

“The town is on the upward progression of becoming an awesome mecca for the outdoors and it’s our responsibility to continue on with that, and not let the momentum stop,” Dutch said.


To Thatcher and Dutch, it’s more than providing a fun weekend outside, it’s creating experiences that may be life changing.

“It’s about the transference of skills,” Thatcher said. “What I want to leave with the OP is that it isn’t a fun zone, yes we have fun, but we create leaders here. These skills are transferable to anything done in life.”

Thatcher explained when a student leads a multi-day rafting trip, in charge of 25 to 30 people, they are able to gain a leadership experience they won’t find anywhere else on campus.

“We have knowledge in our hands in a phone, but what are we doing with it?,” Thatcher asked. “We need game changers to change the world, and that’s what we do here. We get outside the box through adventure and wilderness experiences.”

With Thatcher’s leadership teaching, his new position at Southern Oregon will help legitimize the field of outdoor adventure leadership. There are dozen of certifications needed to be an adventure guide including avalanche safety and rafting.

“It brings a level of professionalism which is not there at times,” Thatcher said.

To learn more about the Outdoor Program, visit

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