River City Outdoors (RCO), a nonprofit organization based in the City of St. Louis, has opened a new Gear Lending Library that makes outdoor equipment more accessible to residents and removes barriers for those living in the St. Louis region to get outside.

The Gear Lending Library is located at the Big Muddy Adventures Guide Shop at 4662 Washington Boulevard in the Central West End neighborhood of St. Louis and offers free borrowing of outdoor equipment for hiking, camping, paddling, bikepacking, and more. Inventory and check-out services are available at https://rivercityoutdoors.myturn.com.

The Gear Lending Library is currently open to RCO network member organizations serving St. Louis youth and their families, and school groups. RCO staff provides free training to borrowers on how to properly use and care for the equipment prior to check-out. After a trial period, RCO hopes to expand the gear library to the public at large.

“One of the common barriers we see when it comes to getting kids and families outside is the availability and access to quality gear,” said Rebecca Weaver, Director of RCO. “We are committed to increasing equitable access to outdoor recreation in the region, and this resource will help make experiencing the outdoors more accessible to hundreds of people and partners.”

Funding for the project was provided in part by a grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Urban Connections program, an initiative that bridges the gap between urban residents and the national forests in their backyard and provides opportunities for urban audiences to get involved in natural resource activities in national forests and in their cities. 

RCO Gear Library

The Gear Lending Library includes items for camping, hiking, biking, and more. (Natalie Rowles)

The Gear Lending Library is also being supported by the Outdoors Empowered Network (OEN), a national network of community-led, youth-centered outdoor education groups that are dedicated to increasing access and diversity in the outdoors through gear libraries and outdoor leadership training. Equipment was provided by GCI Outdoor, GSI Outdoors, Goal Zero, Mountainsmith, Petzl, FE Active, NEMO, Big Agnes, ShowersPass, Carson, and others, as well as through private donations.

“At Outdoors Empowered Network, we are incredibly excited to welcome River City Outdoors as a member. They’ve spent time and care to build a new gear library built to support the St. Louis community, and I look forward to hearing many wonderful stories about new experiences outdoors in nature,” said OEN Executive Director Seraph White.

One St. Louis emerging community leader sees the Gear Lending Library as an exciting, equitable way to keep outdoor time high and wasteful environmental impact low.

“A gear library is an especially great resource for folks like us and those we serve with Black Trans Bike Experience programming. For most of our participants, it’s unrealistic and alienating to require they spend extra money to buy gear or tools and just use them one time or for one trip,” said Jay-Marie Hill, founder of Black Trans Bike Experience. “Offerings like these are essential to making the benefits of experiencing the outdoors more comfortable, fun, and accessible for all.” 

Ujima, a St. Louis-based organization that cultivates community through food justice, environmental stewardship, and youth empowerment, plans to use equipment from the gear library for its summer outdoor education programs, which include two camping trips and a new float trip. 

“None of the groups we work with have what’s needed to allow us to equip these activities, in addition to offering the necessary training when it comes to water safety and how to set up tents and campsites. We’re fortunate to have River City Outdoors and its gear library as a resource,” said Nick Speed, founder and Executive Director of Ujima. “I think having access to the gear library will allow us to expand our outdoor education programs, which serve pre-K through undergraduate youth, and engage more schools and sites.”

RCO is one of 13 Thrive Outside communities across the United States. The Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Initiative awards multi-year, capacity-building grants to diverse communities to build and strengthen networks that provide children and families with repeat and reinforcing experiences in the outdoors. The community-led initiative is built with trusted local and national partners and is supported by three years of funding.

“The Gear Lending Library is just one way we are fulfilling our commitment to the Outdoor Foundation and its Thrive Outside initiative,” said RCO’s Weaver, “in addition to community-centered grantmaking efforts we’re building connections and relationships with other organizations to collectively support programming that actively connects kids and families with nature.”