When you live in a concrete jungle with more than 8 million people, nature can seem unreachable.
Good news – it’s not.
Discover Outdoors was launched in 2004 by Kirk Reynolds, a Missouri native who landed in Manhattan, took a good look around, and decided to call “the city” his home. Where many of us see roadblocks, Kirk found nature among the many parks, bodies of water, and trails in and around the city, and before long he was taking friends hiking and rock climbing. Soon, his hobby was in high demand.
Today, Discover Outdoors provides nearly 1,000 trips per year for city dwellers and students – everything from fitness classes in Central Park to day and weekend trips around the Northeast, and even adventure trips to destinations like Banff, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Everest Base Camp and Machu Picchu. Surf Mei Mei had the opportunity to interview Kirk to gain more insight into Discover Outdoors and what motivates him.
SMM: What do you love most about what you do?
KR: Taking people on unforgettable adventures and experiencing the transformation that happens within them are the best parts about my job. It’s those stories that inspire me to keep pushing.
SMM: So, what were you doing before? Why did you decide to launch Discover Outdoors (DO)?
KR: Before DO, I was working at IBM. I moved to New York for that job and ended up being there for 8 years. It’s actually amazing how many lessons I learned there that I apply today. It was an important experience for me professionally. But, I knew there was something else I was meant to do. When weekend bike rides and hiking trips with friends started to gain momentum, I approached my boss to let him know I was going to roll the dice and pursue DO full-time. I was anxious to have the conversation. I had a whole speech planned in case he resisted, but I didn’t need it because he was 100% supportive. He was really excited for me. I’ll never forget that or how much I appreciated it. I still do.
SMM: Flash forward 10 years and here you are. What’s been the biggest surprise?
KR: Good question. The biggest surprise has probably been the people. There was no model for this business type so I was taking a serious chance on how enthusiastically everyone would embrace it. Turns out people are starving for it! You should see people’s reactions when they finish a tough hike, snowshoe for the first time, go canyoneering – there’s a different look about them. We’ve had first-timers become our most avid adventurers. We see people who were strangers come to our DO happy hours together. We’ve had proposals! My wife and I recently got married in Iceland and the support we’ve received from the Discover Outdoors family has been unreal. We didn’t ask for it or expect it, but when we returned from trekking around that country, there was this giant embrace from guides, clients, volunteers and partners. Every day people surprise me.
SMM: What’s an important lesson you teach your 40+ guides?
KR: The first lesson I train our guides when leading, whether its Mount Kilimanjaro climbs, fitness classes in Central Park or a hike in the Adirondacks, is that it’s not their summit. We’re there to support, inspire and encourage our members to reach their peaks. And when you achieve something together as a group, lasting relationships are born. We have a community within Discover Outdoors and it’s been amazing to see that grow.
SMM: Your company also has a non-profit, the Discover Outdoors Foundation. Tell us about it.
KR: There are over one million students in New York City and most have not truly experienced the outdoors. We felt a responsibility to provide what could be a life-changing experience to as many students as possible. Led by our tireless Managing Director, Beth Harrison, along with a devoted board and awesome volunteers, the Discover Outdoors Foundation was born to get these kids into the outdoors to learn, team build and have fun. We get to work with incredible teachers and administrators to make each trip happen, and local camps to sponsor summer trips that these kids hadn’t dreamt of experiencing.
SMM: What is Outdoor Rise and how did it come about?
KR: Outdoor Rise is a week long outdoor adventure festival right here in New York, kicking off this year on Saturday, June 21. We hold more than 50 events in and around the city and they are all $5 or less. The best part is that all proceeds benefit the Discover Outdoors Foundation.
For just $5 you can try stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, rock climbing and more and know that your money is helping inner-city kids go to camp and explore the outdoors.
Last year we had nearly 4,000 people participate and thanks to our guides, partners, sponsors and more, we’re bigger and better this year. Who knows where we’ll be by next summer. Come out and join us!
All images are originated by Surf Mei Mei, Discover Outdoors + Lisa McGarry
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