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It was hopefully the first of many camping adventures to come in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and Maya, along with her new friends stared up into the clear night sky. Their youthful excitement cut through the quiet of the late night, and almost as if in response to their energy, shooting stars  streaked across their view. It was the first time they had seen shooting stars. From this one special moment friendships and adventures continue to grow, and it's rooted in Detroit Outdoors. 

The seeds for what would eventually become Detroit Outdoors were planted when First  Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the Let's Move! Outside initiative. Multiple  organizations in Detroit, including Detroit Parks & Recreation and YMCA Metro Detroit,  faced the challenges in providing access: resources were tight, and the only campground in the city, Scout Hollow, was unusable. But, as Garrett Dempsey, Detroit  Outdoors Program Director, put it, they were "realizing if we work together, and with a  wider network of supporters...we could do some great things for Detroit youth and communities." It was that collaboration, and the impactful results of working together,  that drove a lasting solution: the formation of a gear library, a training program, and the  revitalization of Scout Hollow. The collaborative effort gave birth to an organization that  has grown way beyond the answer to a challenge from the First Lady, by making memories, changing lives, and ultimately fostering community. 

Detroit Outdoors group canoeing

Detroit Outdoors is a collaboration between the Sierra Club Outdoors for All Campaign, YMCA of Metro Detroit, and Detroit Parks and Recreation, and is one part gear library, one part leadership  training, one part youth program, and one part community connector. With expertise and weather-appropriate apparel and equipment available for loan, members and leaders ensure that youth, families, and anyone in the community that wants to get outdoors has the right skills and gear to make it happen. Detroit Outdoors gear library also shares  space and gear with other local organizations. One such partner, Black to the Land, is a coalition of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Nature Enthusiasts and Environment Activists/Educators, intent on helping fellow BIPOC actively engage in meaningful outdoor adventures; such as Maya’s camping trip on the Upper Peninsula.  Since  receiving its first grant in 2017, Detroit Outdoors been steadily growing in popularity and impact. 

That impact goes beyond access to the outdoors. The programs and experiences made  possible by Detroit Outdoors transform connections to the land: whether it's just  someone's block, or land we all share. 

Improving access is central to their mission, but at its core, access itself has an  emotional, human component: trust. "It just seems when you look at the dominant  narrative and what we see in the media... not everybody feels comfortable going to  these public lands," Garrett explains. "We want to be a part of connecting all people to  the outdoors. Helping everybody see a place for themselves in the outdoors." Gear and  training play a part in that, but building trusting relationships is key. If people don't feel  comfortable in an outdoor space, or with the people in that space with them, the gear  won't matter. 

"As far as the community connections, I think those connections have gotten a lot  deeper," says Chris Jackson, Camping and Conservation Coordinator. Getting comfortable in outdoor spaces makes it easier to invite others into it. In turn, the effects  of the program help to nurture trusting relationships, strengthening the fabric of the community just as much as the individuals that see their first shooting stars. "People  have these life-changing experiences," says Chris, "So they share them with people,  and people want to go have that experience, too." 

Detroit Outdoors gear library

As of December 2021, there is one gear library with over 1,000 items available for  loan. But Detroit Outdoors has a vision (and the enthusiasm of the community) to  expand to serve much more of the city, and beyond: with a gear library in every rec center, more green and outdoor spaces to share, and gear for more types of outdoor  adventures. It's going to take partnerships across multiple levels with land managers, outdoor brands, and community organizations to make that happen. Showers Pass is  thrilled to be a part of that, with an initial donation of over $6000 in new outdoor apparel  donated in October 2021, but that is just one small piece of a much broader goal.  Support from more organizations across multiple dimensions is needed to continue to  nurture relationships, improve resource quantity and quality, and expand programming.