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Venture Outdoors Removes Barriers for Outside Adventures



In recent years, there has been more focus on the benefits of outdoor activities for both mental and physical health. During COVID, many found themselves enjoying the outdoors more than ever before, a habit that still holds true for many. But many others may not know what types of outdoor adventures await and may lack the opportunity to participate.



Amy O’Neill
Amy O’Neill

Since 2001, Venture Outdoors has been dedicated to creating outdoor experiences in Western PA for everyone. In honor of the increased awareness and focus on outdoor experiences and the celebration of Earth Day on April 24th, North Hills Monthly spoke with Amy O’Neill, Director of Development & Communications for Venture Outdoors.


North Hills Monthly (NHM): Can you tell us a little bit about Venture Outdoors and your mission?


Amy O’Neill: (O’Neill:): Venture Outdoors is a nonprofit in which we remove barriers and create outdoors experiences. We provide the gear, guidance and inspiration to get people of all ages and stages outdoors.




Our work branches out in a few different ways. At Kayak Pittsburgh we rent kayaks, SUPs, canoes and pedal boats so folks can explore our region’s waterways. Our community programs calendar offers a wide array of programs that anyone can join including mountain biking, mindfulness hikes, fireworks paddles, snowboarding and birding walks. Lastly, our youth programs focus on reaching students in schools, during after care and at summer camp. We teach kids how to build fires, hike, bike, geocache, fish and more.


NHM: Why is Venture Outdoors important to our region?


O’Neill: Our region is blessed with an abundance of green spaces, trails and waterways. Our work connects people to these spaces, which promotes appreciation and environmental protection.


NHM: What are some of your offerings? How do you determine what kind of programming that you host?


O’Neill: Our offerings include:


  • Youth (K-12 - summer camps, after-school, and in-school)

  • Mentorship (high school age students)

  • Young Adult (ages 18-24)

  • Community (all ages)

  • Venture Outdoors Again (ages 55+)

  • Kayak Pittsburgh (all ages – kayaks, paddle boards, etc. – individual or group rentals and excursions)





Some communities face barriers beyond simply stepping outdoors. We offer additional support and dedicated spaces for historically marginalized groups. This includes pride and BIPOC paddles, women and nonbinary mountain biking and snowboarding sessions, a Pride Outside Hiking series, a Size Inclusion series and a Walk and Learn series tailored for older adults. In addition to our affinity-based outings, we also organize hiking, biking and kayaking trips for people from all walks of life.


NHM: Who are your trip leaders?


O’Neill: Venture Outdoor trip leaders are volunteers who are trained outdoor enthusiasts who love to share the benefits of getting outside. We have everyone from experienced snowboarders who want to guide women and nonbinary folks to ascend the snow to cyclists who bring participants on a ride through geological history. Anyone can join if they’re passionate and ready to learn. You can sign up at VentureOutdoors.org.


NHM: Do you offer other programming?


O’Neill: While many people know us for our Kayak Pittsburgh rentals at North Park, Downtown and Sharpsburg, we also run community programs where we lead folks on hikes, bike rides, geocaching adventures and more. However, most near and dear to our mission, is our youth programming. We work with dozens of schools in the region to get youth outdoors. Outdoor Educators lead kids of all ages in in-school and after-school activities. We’re also in our third year of running summer camps.


NHM: Do you have partner organizations?


O’Neill: We work with many local school districts, companies and community groups interested in providing the health and wellness benefits of the outdoors to their students/members/employees.


NHM: As a nonprofit, how are you funded?


O’Neill: We are unique among nonprofit organizations because we raise funds for our mission-based youth and community programs by renting kayaks and other watercraft through our Kayak Pittsburgh social venture. When you reserve boats through us you truly paddle for a purpose. In addition, we get support from our members and generous individual donors, local and national foundations, corporate partnerships and some government funding, including the Allegheny Regional Asset District.


For folks interested in becoming a member, join at ventureoutdoors.org/membership.


NHM: What do you want people to know about Venture Outdoors?


O’Neill: We strive to provide a welcoming and safe environment while we build community outdoors. Our mission is to remove barriers to the outdoors. Our team works hard to provide the inspiration, instruction and equipment needed to get folks outdoors no matter their backgrounds, ages or abilities. Through our efforts, we aspire to create inclusive spaces where everyone feels empowered to explore and connect with nature.


NHM: How do people become involved with Venture Outdoors?


O’Neill: The quickest and easiest way to start is to join our newsletter. Every other week we’ll send you our upcoming trips, plus you’ll be the first to know about summer camps, outdoor film festivals and Kayak Pittsburgh updates.


You can also become a volunteer trip leader who gets people outdoors or a member who donates once a year for some added perks. If you like kayaking, you can start scheduling your kayak rentals soon, as we open May 25 at North Park, Sharpsburg, and Downtown. Find all this at VentureOutdoors.org.


NHM: Do you have special programming/celebrations for Earth Day?


O’Neill: Yes, join us for an Earth Day Hike and Stewardship event, in collaboration with the volunteer community group, Pretty Up Beechview, on Sunday, April 21st. Visit our Activity Calendar for additional details and secure your spot to participate in the cleanup efforts of Beechview and the Seldom Seen Greenway, a hidden gem for hiking within the City of Pittsburgh.


We are also hosting the Banff Centre Mountain Film Festival World Tour, Friday-Sunday, April 19-21. Starting in Banff, Alberta, Canada the 48th annual film festival has stops planned in more than 40 countries across the globe and celebrates amazing achievements in outdoor storytelling and filmmaking worldwide.


For more information, visit their website at https://ventureoutdoors.org/activities/ or call 412-255-0564.

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