At a recent Monday night happy hour, a group of 20- and 30-something New Yorkers huddled around maps spread out on a table, chatting, beers in hand. Except that the maps were of nature trails instead of subway lines, and it wasn’t at a bar, it was at REI, among harnesses and hiking books.
The occasion was Mappy Hour, a social gathering organized by OutdoorFest, a new organization looking to create a cohesive community among the city’s outdoor enthusiasts and showcase the opportunities for adventure in the five boroughs. Adventure as in rock climbing, kayaking, and mountain biking—not all-night dance parties and underground art shows.
“One of my goals is to show off New York City as a cool place to be, especially if you’re an outdoor enthusiast,” says 25-year-old OutdoorFest founder Sarah Knapp. “No, you’re not going to move here for the outdoors. But you can be here and be pursuing your career and still do it.” (Take that, Denver.)
It’s not a totally new idea. Discover Outdoors (where Knapp formerly worked) has been taking New Yorkers on outdoor excursions in the city’s neighborhoods and surrounding areas since 1982, and its annual Outdoor Rise festival is wildly popular. Last week, it opened registration for this year’s installment, happening at the end of June, and some events sold out within the day.
But Knapp says the elder organization tends to focus on heavily guided tours and treks that appeal to nature navigation newbies. “A lot of the people who come to Mappy Hour already have gear and tools to go out by themselves, they’re just looking for people to do it with,” Knapp says.
The first OutdoorFest event (hence the “fest”) kicks off on Friday, May 30, with more than 70 free events spread out over 10 days. They include surfing in the Rockaways, fishing in Hudson River Park, urban foraging in Fort Greene, and lectures on how to boulder and hike without leaving the city limits.
All of which, Knapp hopes, will convince New Yorkers (and outsiders) of what’s possible, but will also forge connections among those who have outdoor passions, and maps, to spare.
Which is why she had everyone go around and introduce themselves with one thing “they know a lot about” and one thing “they want to know more about.” After the intros, people bee-lined for their potential outdoor mates, to compare notes on (and maybe make plans for) slacklining and circumnavigating Manhattan in a kayak. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information, visit www.outdoorfest.org