Thrive Outside GR and city provide green-deficient neighborhoods with gear for outdoor activities

Residents who live on the Southwest side of Grand Rapids, a relatively green-deficient area, now have a chance to participate in more outdoor recreation. The city of Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Department has activated a free outdoor gear library, located on the first floor of Roosevelt Park Lodge at 739 Van Raatle SW. Created to provide diverse communities with more equitable access to outdoor activities, the Thrive Outside Gear Library enables residents to borrow gear for free. 

Courtesy of Our Community's Children
Gear ranges include hiking backpacks, binoculars, sleeping bags, hammocks, sleds, coolers, hiking shoes, lawn games and more. Items were provided by the Outdoor Foundation, Wolverine Worldwide, Merrell, Moosejaw, Bill & Paul’s Sporthaus and UGQ Outdoor, LLC. 

Executive Director of Our Community's Children (OCC) Shannon L. Harris says Grand Rapids is one of eight cities to receive the grant, making the city a Thrive Outside Community.

“As part of this Thrive Outside initiative, we are focusing on reversing the declining trend of outdoor engagement by working at the grassroots level to empower our stakeholders to ensure that young people have access to quality, outdoor experiences and repeated outdoor experiences,” Harris says. 

Before launching this program, an advisory committee of several community-based organizations, nature-based organizations and afterschool programs looked at how to connect children authentically and repeatedly to nature. 

“We started this work almost two and a half years ago, and one of the outcomes of this work is the Gear Library,” Harris says. “We created this Gear Library to help connect young people to the outdoors, but with a hyper-focus on young people who live in green-deficient areas of Grand Rapids. We were very intentional about where the Gear Library would be located.”

Thrive Outside Gear Library Supervisor Sam Truby says the library has found its ideal home base. 

“The Southwest part of Grand Rapids has less park space per person,” he says. “The neighborhood caught our attention because there is a large Latinx and Hispanic population in Southwest Grand Rapids." This made the location even more appealing.

"Half our staff is bilingual, so they’re a population that’s very near and dear to our staff’s hearts in terms of providing Latinx families with the resources to go outside," Truby says. "We had explored all over Grand Rapids and we were hopeful we could be close to the families who really needed our services the most. Roosevelt Park really fit that bill and we were thrilled it was available for us.”

Although the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Gear Library took place Oct. 11, Truby says the program has been a long time coming. “The grant was awarded in 2019 and we spent a season researching, and a season piloting ideas. The Gear Library has actually been open since the summer,” he says. 

Although they have an age requirement for borrowers, the library works closely with nonprofits and afterschool programs, which facilitate getting gear into the hands of young people,Truby says. To borrow gear, residents 18+ need to provide proof of ID, such as a driver's license, ID card or piece of mail.

“We’re very clear with everyone who signs up — we don’t hang on to photos of any documentation. We ask for the minimal amount of information to know who you are and to be able to contact you,” Truby says. Borrowers can check out equipment typically for one week at a time, but Truby says staff is flexible with timelines if camping trips extend past those seven days. “If people are doing a two-week long camping trip, we want to work with them to support them if we can,” he says.

Gear Library staff is available on-site to assist borrowers with demonstrations of gear and games and require an hour orientation period if checking out camping gear. The Gear Library is currently open Wednesdays and Fridays from 2-6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. To assist residents when needed, the Library is open year round.

The city is also participating in the National Thrive Outside Day Saturday, Oct. 16 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Gear Library. There will be free food, outdoor yoga, yard games, giveaways and a DJ. 

Sarah briefly lived in Grand Rapids years ago, before moving back to Lansing, but that West Michigan love never really left her heart. Through her coverage on small businesses, arts and culture, dining, and anything mitten-made, she’s committed to convincing any and everyone -- just how great the Great Lakes state is. Sarah received her degrees in Journalism and Professional Communications. You can find her in a record shop, a local concert, or eating one too many desserts at a bakery. If by chance, she’s not at any of those places, you can contact her at [email protected]