A decade ago, hikers had dreams of building a 550-mile loop around the San Francisco Bay Area for millions of people to enjoy. With the support of REI, there’s less than 200 miles left to go.

“You can imagine the wonder and sense of accomplishment when people go end to end on the Pacific Crest Trail or Appalachian Trail or any other scenic trails,” said Marc Berejka, REI community and government affairs director. “Our vision is to bring that type of wonder closer to the urban environment and creates one continuous circumference.”

This year, REI is investing $8.8 million in projects, outdoor places, and organizations that are increasing access to the outdoors—about $600,000 of that goes to the Rewilding Project. It's in its the third year of an initiative to bring the outdoors to city dwellers in the Bay Area, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington D.C.

Another REI initiative to look out for: The cooperative debuted Product Sustainability Standards that will soon apply to more than 1,000 small and large brands sold by the outdoor retailer.

Americans are at risk of becoming an "indoor species," Berejka told SNEWS, and REI's goal is to bring the outdoors closer to people’s backyards and bring such deeply rewarding experiences closer to where people live in urban areas, in contrast to the great outdoors.

Whether or not REI will take on more cities is to be determined. The cooperative's initial commitment to the five cities was at least three years, but Berekjka said it could take longer. REI has partnered with a number of nonprofit partners positioned to support each project.

"Changing the recreation landscape of an urban area is no small undertaking," Berejka said. "One of the things I relish is we do take the long view."

To date, the Rewilding Project is the largest project REI has ever taken on in metro areas.

Here's a breakdown of each:

  • San Francisco Bay Area: Completing the 550-mile Bay Area Ridge Trail—370 miles are complete—which surrounds 8 million people
  • Los Angeles: Improving access to and enhancing outdoor recreation infrastructure at the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, which is located within an hour’s drive for 10 million people in the greater metro area
  • Chicago: Reimagining the southeast part of the city as an outdoor recreation hub just 25 minutes from the urban core, with a mountain bike park, trails, paddling, climbing and more
  • Washington D.C.: Creating a world-class network of multi-use trails that are equitably distributed throughout the metropolitan region, providing healthy, low-stress access to open space and reliable transportation for people of all ages and abilities
  • Seattle: Connecting the waterfront to South Park and Georgetown with a 15-mile mixed-use trail

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