By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
The Air Force Academy’s Outdoor Recreation Agency was named the best in the Air Force by Lt. Gen. Richard Newton, the deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, March 3.
ORA director Chuck Alfultis said the location, facility and staff all came together to make it a winning combination.
The same held true in 2006 when the Academy’s ORA also garnered the top spot in the Air Force.
“Colorado in our backyard is a perfect outdoor playground,” he said, citing its mountains, rivers and climate.
Having a facility smack dab in the middle of the Academy’s 18,000-plus acres is also a big plus. Now housed in the Community Center, it features a rustic cabin décor, which the staff constructed through self-help. The facility houses the program’s 100-item rental program, with 1,600 skis and more than 800 retail items available for outdoor enthusiasts.
The staff is what makes the program special, Mr. Alfultis said.
“We have fantastic people who work here. It is a direct reflection of their hard work,” he said of the award.
Mr. Alfultis added many staff members have been with the Academy for a long time, and there is a good mix of skills.
“All truly care about each other and their company,” he said.
Staff not only work together, they play together in outdoor activities – as well as pull practical jokes on each other, like the day Mr. Alfultis came to work to find his office stuffed with kayaks.
The ORA has a huge impact on the Academy. Last year, it served more than 100,000 customers combined at the Equestrian Center and Farish Recreation Area. It also kicked off the “Year of the Air Force Family” with a Winter Expo ski extravaganza, with discounts for more than 3,000 base personnel; hosted “Vacation Destination” at the Peregrine Pines Family Camp with 2,300 recreational vehicles over the summer season, and hosted the Air Force Global Volksmarch as a joint-base event with Schriever Air Force Base.
In addition, the ORA manages the Cadet Bike Impound Program to turn quality unclaimed bikes into rentals,and provides a 515-RV storage area and operates an annex in the cadet area. Staff also serves as guides for such events as concerts, visits to landmark attractions and tours, including the “Magical Mystery Tours,” wherein participants board buses for unknown destinations.
The ORA also offers a myriad of offerings with trips, classes and maintenance services, and it is only one of three entities to hold a license to accompany customers on trips to Pikes Peak.
Outdoor adventure programmer Cecil Gaddy leads rafting and kayaking trips and treks for skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling and teaches classes, among his responsibilities.
Bill Coble is also an outdoor adventure programmer and leads bike rides for amateur and experienced cyclists, hikes and seminars on such topics as fly fishing, bike riding and star gazing, among other activities.
“Bill plays in the dirt, and I play in the water,” Mr. Gaddy quipped.
Mr. Coble said the programs are successful first because the center has something customers don’t have, such as equipment like skis. Second, customers more often than not don’t know about the activity or area they will visit, like the hidden landmarks at Moab, Utah, a favorite bicycling destination. Finally, he said the ORA staff can provide services like transportation to a ski area.
Mr. Gaddy said he is not surprised the Academy ORA came in first again this year. He pointed out the program organizes 360-plus activities every year.
“We put out a lot of programs, and quality programs, all year,” he said “We want to not just satisfy our customers but exceed their expectations.” The staff is also highly committed, putting in 14-hour program days, not counting scouting time for possible new activities.
“When you work, we work. When you play, we work harder,” he said.
Equestrian Center director Billy Jack Barrett said his staff strives to make a customer’s experience a positive one.
“All of our patrons are special to our staff. We make certain that they feel that way,” he said and pointed out riding trails, or simply brushing a horse, is a great stress reliever.
Mr. Barrett credits the success of his operation to great horses, fair prices and beautiful riding trails. The Academy is the only Air Force installation that owns its own horses.
Peregrine Pines Family Camp manager John Rodrigues said the camp is a favorite getaway for base personnel, and his staff works to make the facility the best it can be.
“The camp is on base, but the trees, squirrels, rabbits, birds, deer, turkeys and even the bears and mountain lions make you feel like you are in the real outdoors,” he said, and added guests also appreciate the convenience of laundry, shower and Internet hook-ups, satellite television and a new playground. Coming soon is also a dog park.
“We have a very dedicated, helpful and friendly staff who make the operation such a success,” he said.
Mr. Coble said the ORA is always looking for volunteers to present unique programs like birding and geocaching. The center is always open to host special group outings as requested.
“We come up with ideas and just throw them out there,” he said. “We can be creative, and that’s the part I like.”