The wild hills and hollows of Shenandoah National Park span 200,000 acres along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. This protected land winds through several different communities, roughly 75 miles from Washington, D.C. And the Shenandoah National Park Trust (SNPT) helps make sure people can safely access and enjoy all that the park has to offer. Last spring, REI members in the area helped make the nonprofit’s job a little easier.
As part of a 2018 pilot program at REI stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic, co-op members who made a purchase over a two-week period could help decide how to allocate a portion of the co-op’s regional philanthropy budget among three nonprofits, including Shenandoah National Park Trust. In total, thousands of members participated and each of the nonprofits received an REI grant based on input from members. Thanks in part to the investment from the co-op, SNPT was able to purchase and install additional bear-proof food storage lockers in the park.
The success of the pilot inspired REI to scale the program nationwide to mark a major stewardship milestone. This year, the co-op will surpass $100 million invested in the outdoors. To celebrate, REI is launching the Loving Our Local Outdoors initiative to offer our members across the country a chance to help local nonprofit organizations near all of our 154 stores. Over a four-week period, REI members visiting all REI stores can help us decide how to invest $1 million.
“We have heard from our members that they would like to participate in our philanthropy and we couldn’t agree more. We are a co-op and together we aspire to steward outdoor spaces in local communities and across the country,” said Kristen Ragain, manager of philanthropy and community partnerships at REI.
With members’ help, the $1 million investment will benefit organizations that specialize in things like building new trails, clearing existing trails, restoring campsites, enhancing climbing areas, increasing water access, and more projects in urban and backcountry locations across the country. Ragain added: “REI allocates a community investment budget to each region where we have retail store(s) in order to support nonprofits that are actively working to increase access and reduce barriers to the outdoors.”
“Now is the time for us to engage our membership much more actively in the work and this is an exciting shift. We want to involve our members directly in our work to awaken a lifelong love of the outdoors and this is just the start," said Alex Thompson, vice president of Brand Stewardship and Impact for REI. "Our hope is that people will be inspired to get even more deeply engaged and our job, over the coming months and years, will be to provide clear ways to play a role in what we consider the fight for life outside.”
How to Participate
Here’s how the program works: Members who make an in-store purchase between March 7 and April 8, 2019, will get a token at the register. They will be invited to choose among three local stewardship projects shown in a display. Rest assured, there are no winners and losers here. All participating nonprofit partners will receive funding based on the number of tokens allocated to a project in their region. In total, nearly 200 organizations across the country will benefit from this program.
Last year’s Mid-Atlantic pilot program helped pave the way for this new national endeavor. Stephanie Piperno, a market coordinator for REI Outdoor Programs and Outreach in Washington, D.C., helped come up with the original idea.
“I was noticing that longtime REI members were unaware of our local philanthropy efforts. So I was thinking of ways that we could spread the word and really engage our membership in that process,” Piperno said. And in doing so, she put nonprofit partners front and center, which gave members more opportunities to get involved.
REI works with an array of nonprofits that benefit nearly every aspect of life outdoors. As a result, the co-op tried to offer members options in the 2019 program that reflect a variety of projects and interests. In Denver, for example, members can pick from an organization that supports high-altitude trail restoration (Colorado Fourteeners Initiative), engages volunteers to steward urban and backcountry trails across the state of Colorado (Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado), or a more specific project that supports two weeks of trail work in Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado Youth Corps Association).
“This is a great partnership,” said Scott Segerstrom, executive director of CYCA. “A lot of the projects we execute are often on federal land, and by law, those projects require conservation corps to bring [a] non-federal match to the project. So those REI dollars really help ensure that we can execute these federal projects.”
For more than eight decades, REI has given back in the outdoor community. Last year alone, REI invested $8.8 million in more than 400 nonprofit partners working to create and protect access to the outdoors. Through grants, advocacy and stewardship projects, the co-op impacted more than 1,000 outdoor places across the U.S.
If you’d like to get involved, visit your local REI store between March 7 and April 8 and help us fight for life outdoors by choosing a local stewardship project to support.
Full List of Local Organizations
Anchorage, AK: Friends of Eagle River Nature Center, Student Conservation Association and Singletrack Advocates
Asheville, NC: Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Carolina Climbers Coalition and The Pisgah Conservancy
Atlanta, GA: Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy and Trust for Public Land
Austin, TX: Austin Ridge Riders, Shoal Creek Conservancy and Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
Bay Area, CA: Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Pinnacles National Park Foundation and Yosemite Conservancy
Bellingham, WA: Citizens for Forest Roads, Whatcom Land Trust and Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition
Bend, OR: Central Oregon Avalanche Center, Discover Your Forest and Oregon Natural Desert Association
Boise, ID: Idaho Trails Association, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley and Bogus Basin
Bozeman, MT: Montana Wilderness Association, Yellowstone Forever and Montana Conservation Corps
Brentwood, TN: Southeastern Climbers Coalition, Citizens for Brentwood Green Space, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association
Brookfield, WI: Ice Age Trail Alliance, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
Charlotte, NC: Anne Springs Close Greenway, Carolina Thread Trail and Tarheel Trailblazers
Chattanooga, TN: Wild Trails, SORBA Chattanooga and Southeastern Cave Conservancy
Chicago, IL: Friends of the Chicago River, Forest Preserve Foundation and Active Transportation Alliance
Cincinnati, OH: River City Paddlesports, Green Umbrella - Tri-State Trails and Little Miami Conservancy
Cleveland, OH: Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association, Buckeye Trail Association and Cuyahoga River Water Trail
Columbus, OH: Central Ohio Mountain Biking Organization (COMBO), Yay Bikes! and Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed: FLOW
Dallas-Fort Worth, TX: Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, Cedar Ridge Nature Preserve and Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association
Denver, CO: Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Colorado Youth Corps Association and Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado
Des Moines, IA: Great Outdoors Foundation, Iowa Rivers Revival and Iowa National Heritage Foundation
Detroit, MI: Huron-Clinton Metroparks, Huron River Watershed Council and Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance
Eugene, OR: McKenzie River Trust, Friends of Buford Park and Mount Pisgah, and Coast Fork Willamette Watershed Council
Fairbanks, AK: Interior Alaska Trails and Parks Foundation, Interior Alaska Land Trust - Chinook Park and Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks
Flagstaff, AZ: Sedona Red Rock Trail Fund, Natural Restorations and American Conservation Experience
Fresno, CA: High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, and Sierra Foothill Conservancy
Grand Junction, CO: Colorado West Land Trust, Colorado Canyons Association and Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association
Greenville, SC: Carolina Climbers Coalition, Upstate SORBA and Foothills Trail Conservancy
Houston, TX: BikeHouston, Greater Houston Off Road Biking Association and Memorial Park Conservancy
Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Natural Resources Foundation, Bike Indianapolis and Eagle Creek Park Foundation
Jacksonville, FL: Timucuan Parks Foundation, Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, and SORBA Jax
Kalispell, MT: Montana Wilderness Association, Whitefish Legacy Partners and Montana Conservation Corps
Kansas City, KS & MO: Urban Trail Co., Bridging the Gap and Friends of the Kaw
Kennewick, WA: Friends of Badger Mountain, Tapteal Greenway and Washington Native Plant Society
Knoxville, TN: Friends of the Smokies, Legacy Parks Foundation and Appalachian Mountain Bike Club
Las Vegas, NV: Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Amargosa Conservancy and Get Outdoors Nevada
Los Angeles, CA: Santa Monica Mountains Fund, Friends of the Los Angeles River and Friends of Joshua Tree National Park
Madison, WI: Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Great Headwaters Trails and Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance
Medford, OR: Siskiyou Mountain Club (SMC), Southern Oregon Trail Alliance (SOTA) and Vesper Meadow Restoration Project
Memphis, TN: Overton Park Conservancy, Wolf River Conservancy and Shelby Farms Park Conservancy
Mid-Atlantic Region: Chesapeake Conservancy, Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE) and Shenandoah National Park Trust
Milford, CT: Friends of East Rock Park, Friends of Hammonasset Beach State Park and Connecticut Forest and Park Association
Missoula, MT: Five Valleys Land Trust, Clark Fork Coalition and Montana Conservation Corps
New England: Save the Bay, Mass Audubon and Appalachian Mountain Club
New Mexico: New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors, Friends of the Santa Fe National Forest and Open Space Alliance
Philadelphia, PA: Pinelands Preservation Alliance, Schuylkill River Greenways and Natural Lands
Phoenix, AZ: Natural Restorations, Maricopa Trail and Park Foundation, and West Valley Trail Alliance
Pittsburgh, PA: Allegheny County Parks Foundation, Hollow Oak Land Trust and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
Portland, OR: Willamette Riverkeeper, Friends of Trees and Forest Park Conservancy
Puget Sound, WA: Forterra, Washington Climbers Coalition and Great Peninsula Conservancy
Raleigh-Durham, NC: Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Friends of Sauratown Mountains
Reno, NV: Nevada Land Trust, Biggest Little Trail Stewardship and Tahoe Rim Trail Association
Richmond, VA: James River Association, rvaMORE and Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club
Rochester, NY: Adirondack Mountain Club, Genesee Regional Off-Road Cyclists and Genesee Land Trust
Sacramento, CA: American River Conservancy, Climbing Resource Advocates of Greater Sacramento and Tahoe Rim Trail Association
Salt Lake City, UT: Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, Mountain Trails Foundation and Weber Pathways
San Antonio, TX: National Parks Conservation Association, South Texas Off-Road Mountain Bikers and Cibolo Nature Center and Farm
San Diego, CA: San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, San Diego River Park Foundation and San Diego Canyonlands
Santa Barbara, CA: Los Padres Forest Association, Santa Barbara County Trails Council and Channel Islands Restoration
Spokane, WA: Riverside State Park, Evergreen East Mountain Bike Alliance and Washington Trails Association
St. Louis, MO: Open Space Council, Great Rivers Greenway Foundation and Missouri River Relief
Tri-State Area: Catskill Center, Friends of the High Line and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
Tucson, AZ: Arizona Trail Association, Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists and Climbing Association of Southern Arizona (CASA)
Minneapolis-Saint Paul, MN: Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Mississippi Park Connection and Superior Hiking Trail Association
Virginia Beach, VA: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Elizabeth River Trail and Bike Norfolk
West Hartford, CT: Connecticut Forest and Park Association, Riverfront Recapture and Ragged Mountain Foundation
Winter Park, FL: Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association Orlando, St Johns River-to-Sea Loop Alliance and Wekiva Wilderness Trust