Colorado’s Outdoor Industry Leaders Team Up to Remove Accessibility Barriers

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Colorado’s western slope offers limitless outdoor adventure opportunities, and a new partnership among national, state and local entities, including the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC) and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) is addressing accessibility barriers. The Glenwood Springs Gear Library provides free outdoor gear and additional information to help remove barriers to participation. 

“Colorado’s majestic outdoors belongs to us all and we are pleased to join local officials and our industry partners to foster inclusive participation,” said Colorado’s Outdoor Industry Office (OREC) Director Nathan Fey. “We share Governor Polis’ vision of a Colorado for all. This gear library helps open up the Roaring Fork Valley’s great outdoors for everyone to enjoy the wide-ranging benefits of Colorado’s outdoors.”  

The Gear Library was born out of Glenwood Springs’ participation in the Recreation Economy for Rural Communities (RERC) workshop. RERC is a new planning assistance program offered through a partnership between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the USDA Forest Service, and the Northern Border Regional Commission. The program helps communities develop strategies and an action plan to revitalize their Main Streets through outdoor recreation.

During Glenwood Springs’ participation in RERC, staff, stakeholders, and community members agreed that outdoor recreation should be inclusive, accessible and enjoyed by all, and that it is essential for well-being, mental and physical health and a sense of community. Participants then discussed barriers to access which included the lack of points of entry into typical outdoor recreation activities, the high cost of equipment to participate in many activities and for some, a sense of unwelcomeness and unawareness due to language barriers.
 
To address these issues, the Glenwood Springs Parks & Recreation Department is creating a low cost/free equipment rental opportunity at the community center that will allow members of the community who may not be able to afford or are not ready to financially commit to the high cost of equipment a chance to utilize the equipment and discover new outdoor recreation activities. All materials (instructions for use, waivers, etc.) will be available in both English and Spanish. 

The Gear Library offers both spring/summer and fall/winter gear and equipment. Whenever possible, gear was purchased from Colorado companies such as High Society Paddle Boards or sourced from Colorado retailers, further supporting Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry. Equipment available for use includes snowshoes, cross-country skis, fishing gear, standup paddleboards, kayaks and mountain bikes as well as safety equipment such as helmets and life vests in both adult and youth sizes. 

“The City of Glenwood Springs is very excited to offer a Gear Library to our community to enable those who may not otherwise be able to afford to participate or haven’t found the right avenue to participate an opportunity to experience the vast array of outdoor recreation activities we have available,” said Karstin Moser, Parks and Recreation Administrator. “We’re also working to keep the entire program very Colorado-centric by purchasing the equipment for the library from outdoor recreation businesses based in Colorado.” 

To help support the Gear Library, OREC partnered with SmartWool and the VF Foundation to provide funding for the acquisition of equipment and technical support, ensuring the library offers a variety of equipment sizes and options. 

“At Smartwool, we aspire to build an outdoor community for all,” said Jen McLaren, Brand President at Smartwool. “We want to ensure that everyone has equitable access to get outside and are committed to breaking down barriers that exist for some communities. Access to outdoor gear is one of those barriers, which is why we are excited to support the Glenwood Gear Library.”

“The VF Foundation believes in the power of community-based partnerships that support a more equitable and sustainable world,” said Gloria Schoch, Executive Director of The VF Foundation. “We’re excited to join our Smartwool brand in supporting OREC’s resourceful, circular and inclusive approach to encouraging greater outdoor participation in our very own backyard in Colorado.  We hope this new program will contribute to a more welcoming environment where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy their outdoor experiences to the fullest.”

ORR, the leading coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations working to promote the growth of the outdoor recreation economy, facilitated the partnership between funding partners, and identified Glenwood Springs as an outstanding opportunity for local investment. 

“A lot of time and energy within the outdoor industry goes into securing and ensuring access to the outdoors for all Americans though fighting for new infrastructures like campgrounds, marinas, trails and more as well as working to designate new and protect existing monuments, parks and wilderness areas,” said Jessica Turner, executive director of Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “Yet, we want to do more as an industry to make sure other barriers such as access to outdoor gear and expertise are equally available to everyone. This is why we are so proud to support Glenwood Springs’ Gear Library and hope to be involved with more of them across the nation.”