GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Featuring stacks filled with hiking boots to sleeping bags, the city of Grand Rapids is launching a new kind of library that looks to get outdoor gear in the hands of families that otherwise may not have access to the often pricey equipment.

Community leaders including Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby celebrated the launch of the gear library at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday afternoon in Roosevelt Park.

The ribbon-cutting for the new gear library at Roosevelt Park in Grand Rapids. (Oct. 11, 2021)

The program allows residents to check out outdoor equipment ranging from snow pants and hiking shoes to tents and sleeping bags for camping.The program is funded by several corporate sponsors, allowing organizers to lend out the equipment free of charge.

Rooted in the Southwest side of the city, the program is part of the Thrive Outside initiative, which looks to provide outdoor opportunities to underserved communities — particularly for people of color and in neighborhoods that have faced disproportionate barriers to the outdoors.

“I want to be able to have everyone have a childhood full of the outdoors, but currently that just doesn’t happen,” gear library supervisor Sam Truby said.

At the ribbon-cutting, City Manager Mark Washington talked his experiences facing barriers to outdoor exploration as a child.

“I didn’t go camping or hiking until I was in my 30s and it wasn’t because my mother didn’t want me to, it was because we never could afford to,” he said. “Who could spend money on an outdoor tent when you had to focus on keeping the literal roof over your head?”

Prior to Monday’s launch, the gear library underwent a yearlong trial period, lending out an array of equipment.

“In the past year, over 2,000 people touched gear library equipment in one way or another,” Truby said. “Some of that was camping (equipment), some of it was sitting in a hammock in the park.”

A local youth director said the gear library was the answer to their prayers after the cost of equipment nearly led them to cancel their summer camping trip, saying neither the families nor the church could come up with the money for the gear needed.

“(It) was a blessing to us and was able to actually reach out to all those kids and help them have all those necessities and those tents and sleeping bags,” Dante Urena, the youth director at Grand Rapids Bethel SDA Church, said. “They were actually in really good condition, too; they were brand new and stuff like that.”

The gear library is located on the first floor of the Roosevelt Park Lodge and is open from 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. More information can be found on the city’s Thrive Outside webpage.

Kids from Potter’s House play with equipment from the new Grand Rapids gear library. (Oct. 11, 2021)