WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Whitman's window on the great outdoors has widened just a bit.
Tamarac House, a three-story apartment building turned residence hall, is the latest campus gateway to the world of nature. Perched on the corner of Park and Main, Tamarac is home to 20 students with a deep and abiding love for outdoor adventure.
Graham Stansbery, a sophomore from Colorado Springs, Colo., is one of the students happily ensconced at Tamarac. He serves as resident assistant for the hall, after having helped lead the campaign for its creation last spring.
"We want our house to be like a writers' or artists' colony, where we have weekly events open to anyone who has an interest in the outdoors," Stansbery says. "Everyone is welcome -- novice or expert."
The primary goal, he adds, is to build a greater sense of community among the large number of Whitman students who enjoy outdoor pursuits.
Tamarac's weekly open house activities are set for Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Planned events range from informational sessions on nearby outdoor venues to workshops on bike maintenance, mountaineering and other outdoor skills.
A year ago, Stansbery and two other first-year students, Ryan Porter (Redmond, Wash.) and Zach Steel (Chico, Calif.), began drafting a three-page housing proposal for college consideration.
"We were stoked when the college gave its approval," Stansbery says. "We think this is going to be a popular place for years to come."
Nancy Tavelli, director of Residence Life & Housing, shies away from calling Tamarac an "interest house," primarily because of its size. With 20 residents, Tamarac is home to more than twice the number of students living in each of Whitman's 11 special interest houses. Students in Tamarac also live in separate apartments, which differs from the smaller interest houses where students have separate bedrooms but make greater use of common spaces, such as kitchen and dining areas.
Whitman's interest house program began in the late 1960s with La Maison Francaise, or French House, for students interested in the French language, culture and customs. Others language houses -- Das Deutsche Haus, La Casa Hispana, and Tekisuijuku -- followed for students of the German, Spanish and Japanese languages and cultures.
The Multi-Ethnic Center for Cultural Awareness, or MECCA House, was launched in 1977. The interest house program steadily expanded to include the Environmental House (Outhouse), Fine Arts House, Asian Studies House, Global Awareness House, Writing House, and Community Service Co-Op.
The Tamarac House is the first of its kind -- a small residence hall with a theme, Tavelli says.
"We've never had any type of residence facility this large centered around a single theme or special interest," she says. "If any theme is going to work on a larger scale, though, this is it. There are large numbers of students at Whitman interested in outdoor activities."
The founding group's organization and sense of commitment add to Tavelli's optimistic outlook for the Tamarac House. "They have a good idea of what they want to do," she says. "Their basic concept seems very viable. There are so many outdoor opportunities close to Walla Walla."
Turning ideas into reality isn't new for Stansbery, who helped start a mountain biking club at his high school in Colorado Springs. And while mountain biking remains his favorite activity, he says that outdoor interests among residents of Tamarac House range far and wide, from climbing to skiing to backpacking, to name a few.
"If I'm outside, I'm happy," Stansbery says. "I'm game for anything."
Most residents of Tamarac House are sophomores. Basic tenets of the house call for residents to learn more about the outdoors as they plan and carry out activities and trips. Actual experiences in the outdoors are viewed as a way for students to bond and work together as teams.
In addition, Tamarac residents are committed to making their house an outdoor resource for all students, staff and faculty. They plan to get involved with such community organizations as the Boy and Girl Scouts. They also hope to work with Whitman's interest houses, possibly doing trail maintenance with the Community Service Co-Op or promoting conservation by making a pact with the Environmental House to live without electricity for a week's time.
Brien Sheedy, director of Whitman's Outdoor Program, says Tamarac House is a welcome addition to the college community.
"The new house is important because it gives students from all over campus a place to gather as they pursue their outdoor interests," Sheedy says. "It also gives a select number of students a place to live and concentrate on their own strong interest in the outdoors."
The Outdoor Program, located in the Reid Campus Center, provides a number of services, including outdoor equipment rentals, workshops, guest speakers and informational materials. Demand for services has risen sharply in recent years.
Sheedy is pleased but not surprised to see an outdoor adventure house take root at Whitman. "It's something students have talked about for awhile," he says. "It's great that a group of students made the request and proposal, and that the college was able to accommodate them."