Through a combination of education, equipment and empowerment, Pittsburgh-based Venture Outdoors is removing barriers to entry for anyone interested in engaging with the outside world.
For many, this engagement can be intimidating. Without access or exposure through sports, civic groups like Scouts, or familial mentorship, nature presents a minefield of anxiety and roadblocks that work to degrade any enthusiasm someone may have for exploring a new outdoor activity. According to Ebony Montgomery, Venture Outdoors Director of Development & Communications, the nonprofit works every day on combating these problems.
“No equipment?” she asks. “We have that covered. Don’t know what to do? We have educators who can teach you everything you need to know to get started. Afraid to go out into nature alone? We offer a variety of programs in small, physically distanced groups.”
This focus on empowerment and education wasn’t always the outfit’s northstar. In the 20 years since the nonprofit’s launch in 2001, Montgomery notes how its focus has changed from simply getting people outside because it’s fun, “to really looking at what is preventing people from getting outdoors, and working to eliminate as many blocks as we can.”
That’s an important distinction. One presupposes a prior knowledge, or willingness to engage in nature, while the other removes that supposition and works to help anyone to find a way to engage with—and to benefit from—the outdoors.
In addition to easing trepidation and lowering the bar for entry, Venture Outdoors also does everything it can to offer year-round programming—Montgomery notes its slew of past offerings, ranging from kayaking (Kayak Pittsburgh), standup paddleboarding, canoeing, and fishing, to hiking, camping, biking, birding, nature photography, rock climbing, trail running, plus an outdoor bootcamp, outdoor book club and summer camps.