Hungry for the Outdoors

New York City is an incredible place. Some even call it magical. Dwellers of the city bask in its wonders and gloat that it is “the best city on earth.” Yet with everything New York is credited for having, it is equally known as one of the most challenging cities in which to lead a balanced life. This is especially true if you find solace through time spent in nature. And for this reason, the city both loses outdoor enthusiasts each year, and has gained the reputation of being an outdoor “unfriendly” city. When faced with how to blend urban life and nature, many New Yorkers who desire both are left feeling that they must choose one to leave behind.

But what if New Yorkers could both live in the city and love the outdoors? This, in fact, was Sarah Knapp’s inspiration when she created OutdoorFest.

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Making s’mores with Biolite stoves during OutdoorFest’s VIP Launch Party

OutdoorFest is a 10-day festival that brings the outdoors to New York City through a series of events in Manhattan and surrounding boroughs. The first one took place this summer, and featured an impressive collection of events: stand up paddle boarding and sailing on the Hudson River, rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, surfing at the Far Rockaways, a nature walk with Ken Chaya through Central Park, and more. Fascinated by OutdoorFest, I attended a female surfer meetup that screened AWAY, a documentary by Elisa Bates about the subculture of NYC surfing. That evening at the meetup, I sipped a local hard cider at an artsy surf shop on the Lower East Side, and watched in amazement as the seemingly displaced (and feisty) surfer gals of the city came out from their apartments and gathered together under one roof. And this undertaking, of constructing community, lies at the core of OutdoorFest.

Though the mission of OutdoorFest is to make the outdoor lifestyle accessible to urban dwellers, Sarah explains that, “it’s not just about accessibility to the outdoors, it’s about connecting people with the outdoors and creating a community while doing so.” When Sarah first moved to New York City, it took her a while to locate the outdoor community. Experiencing this, she set out to create a space for people to feel like they are a part of an outdoor enthusiast community while also living in the city. Sarah’s vision is ultimately to bring OutdoorFest to other dense urban environments like Chicago and D.C., where people experience challenges to urban living, stating “If it were just a dedication to the outdoors, I would move, but it’s a dedication to the reality that people live in cities, and then caring about the livability of cities. I love going outside and want that for others; the answer for how to do that is by creating the space and community.”

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Founder Sarah Knapp (left) during OutdoorFest June 2014

Sarah, through OutdoorFest, brought the hungry outdoor enthusiasts of the city exactly what they needed—community.

Curious to join this community and learn about upcoming events? Check out Mappy Hour, OutdoorFest’s monthly gathering of outdoor enthusiasts around maps, guidebooks, beer, and adventure stories.

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By Alison E. Berman

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