How Detroit Outdoors gets more people outside

How Detroit Outdoors gets more people outside

This post was first published by the Outdoors Empowered Network. It is posted here with the permission of the authors.

Written by Sarah Jean Charniak, Showers Pass

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 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 has 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.”

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.

You can get involved, no matter where you are: Showers Pass’ Enjoy All Elements program is continuing its partnership with Detroit Outdoors into 2022. With every #EnjoyAllElements tagged Instagram photo, every purchase on, and every hour logged through the challenge hub at, Showers Pass will increase our donation to Detroit Outdoors and Outdoors Empowered Network.


#NatureForAll Newsletter

Keep up with #NatureForAll! Subscribe to our newsletter:

We respect your privacy.