Outdoor Research Outhouse Inspired

The most exciting thing I saw this year at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was an old fashioned outhouse. That’s right. Surrounded by aisle after aisle of the latest in camping equipment, technical clothing, action footwear and flashy accessories, this sturdy wooden structure with a crescent moon carved into its door, set my mind and heart racing as I imagined all that it might accomplish.

In a prominent spot at the Outdoor Research booth this no-tech privy was a display that symbolized the company’s efforts to do good things for the environment. Inspired by an anonymous person who generously donated a real life port-a-potty to an over used camp site, OR hopes to encourage the efforts of ordinary people to do what they can to make the outdoors more enjoyable and accessible to everyone.

“It is here for you to use to keep our campground clean,” reads a sign, “It costs me approximately $300 per month to rent, clean and maintain. If each person pays one dollar per person, per day, my expenses can be met.”

Outdoor Research aims to support efforts like this, selfless acts of personal engagement that improve the natural environment. In communities across the country, parks and wilderness areas are losing their financial support for even basic maintenance. This outhouse represents the shameful neglect of local and federal agencies while providing regular folks an opportunity to show that they give a shit.

“We really didn’t want to go quite that far with our messaging on this,” said OR public relations coordinator Christian Folk. “So we’re actually calling it the “We Can” program. We’re offering grants for people to make positive changes in their community.”

The Outdoor Research We Can Grant, in the amount of $10,000, aims to improve outdoor access for everyone. The toilet humor notwithstanding, this campaign beautifully illustrates how one conscientious person can address a complex environmental protection problem with an elegant solution. Providing this basic amenity, a common outhouse, really puts into perspective the needs of thoughtful land management and the many ways that people can help to fulfill them.

The National Park Service, for example, reports more than $12 billion of deferred maintenance costs in campgrounds and visitor centers at sites throughout the system. The poor condition of restrooms, hiking trails, breaches, bridges and boat launches is resulting in a dramatic decline in the overall quality of the park experience. If users can be inspired to contribute their personal time, effort and money to improve the integrity of the wild places they love for the benefit of others, perhaps we can assure the preservation of the natural environment for generations yet to come.

As much as I love all the cool gadgets and gear at Outdoor Retailer it’s important to understand that our primary business is stewardship. Through the sale of these products we help to make more accessible even the most remote habitats on our planet. Companies like Outdoor Research provide people of all ages and everyone walk of life with the essential tools they need to experience the natural world in comfort and style. But at its core the Outdoor Industry also inspires the interests of human beings to protect and preserve these outside places. Through gentle encounters of physical activity-hiking, paddling, biking, climbing, fishing, birding-we inspire our users to leave no trace and keep them safe for those who follow to enjoy.

The Outdoor Research We Can Grant takes the business of gear just a bit further. Paying forward the generous contributions of an ordinary Joe known only as the “Guy in the Terry Trailer” the company reminds us that we all have a role play in being part of the solution and not part of the problem.


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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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