This blog entry is by Annika Zwirn, a former intern and staff member with Venture Outdoors. After her internship ended in the spring of 2014, she wrote a beautiful 11-page reflection on her experience. Today we bring you some highlights of that essay, including Annika’s own journey in rediscovering the outdoor beauty of Pittsburgh. She now works as a Trip Coordinator at Bike the GAP and is a staff member at The Wheel Mill.
To me, Venture Outdoors marks a transition in the Pittsburgh region away from a history of pollution and industry and toward green initiatives and an emphasis on its many outdoor amenities.
Looking back on my childhood and adolescence in the Pittsburgh region, it is clear that I was unaware of nearly all the outdoor amenities available in the region. Called “eco-apathy” by some, for a long time I was of the opinion that Pittsburgh was boring and dull and offered little in the sense of fun and unique opportunities to get outside. For years, I have been drawn instead to the landscapes and opportunities for adventure that the western United States provides. This desire to go west, along with my belief in the reputation of Pittsburgh as a polluted and boring steel town, kept me from recognizing the plentiful recreational opportunities all over the region.
Due to a handful of factors—one being my involvement with Venture Outdoors and relationships with the various outdoor enthusiasts I’ve met through the organization—I have in the past few years become actively involved in the outdoor recreation community in Pittsburgh. I’ve come to see the value of both incorporating outdoor activities into one’s everyday life, and of Pittsburgh and the surrounding region as a destination for educational and recreational adventures. Since the Strategy Report had been published in 2006 and I became involved in the growing outdoor community in Pittsburgh since that time, I wondered if others had experienced a similar value shift.
Venture Outdoors has been, and will continue to be, an important asset to the Pittsburgh outdoor community. With goals to make it easy for anyone—avid adventurer or novice outdoors-person, and people of all physical and monetary abilities—to get outside, the organization works to both maintain the existing outdoor recreation culture and to grow it by introducing newcomers to various activities and places in a welcoming environment. Though it is certainly possible to come to appreciate the outdoors in Pittsburgh on one’s own, Venture Outdoors can be (and has been many times) an integral part of the process of the creation of a valued outdoor recreation culture in the city. Though the organization’s catchphrase is, “We make it easy to get outside!” it seems it could just as easily be, “We make it easy to value the outdoors!”