Why an Outdoor Cooperative = 4 Seasons of Fun

Today my friend Jessica Glendinning lends her writing and outdoor skills to the blog. I first met Jessica at a conference in Portland called the World Domination Summit. Cool name right? Lots of cool people too. We got talking about the outdoors and I found out she co-owns an outdoor cooperative in Virigina. I had to know more. Here she is to explain.

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You may be asking yourself: What exactly is an outdoor cooperative?

To start, the Outdoor Adventure Social Club (OASC) is a worker-owned cooperative, which means that there are 12 co-op owners who each have an equal share in the business – everything from the day to day business decisions to shouldering the financial implications of running said business.

Last February, the owner of the OASC pulled together a group of friends who he thought might be interested in going into business together. The backstory: he had started the business in 2005 and had been running it as a solo operation since then, with volunteers and some paid employees along the way. Now, he was getting married and the business was growing past the point where it could effectively be run by one single person.

From the initial people who showed interest, the group eventually evolved into the Adventure Co-op, which now runs the OASC. Instead of just one person shouldering the load of running a business, we now have 12 sets of hands and minds. We have business- and marketing-minded people, a designer and a developer, financial folks, teachers, small business owners – within the group, we have someone who has expertise in each area that’s necessary for keeping the business running smoothly. We meet at least once a month, sometimes more often, and have quarterly financial meetings.

How is the club itself structured? 

OASC Members are adults of all ages and skill levels exploring and enjoying nature’s beauty, experiencing diverse cultural and social events, and volunteering in hands-on community service projects while forming new friendships. Our mission is to provide daily opportunities to exercise mind and body in a safe, supportive atmosphere fostering camaraderie, education, and respect for our environment and community. And, unlike many adventure companies (as one example, whitewater companies who focus exclusively on rafting), OASC is activity and community oriented, rather than profit-oriented. We try to focus on building community while connecting people to their natural environment.

In a nutshell, we took a business model that was dependent on one person and flipped it to being cooperatively run. This spring, we will celebrate our one year anniversary of being in business, and will hopefully have implemented most of the changes that we as a group have been working on over the past six months. Our hope has always been that the members of OASC wouldn’t really notice the difference with the co-op behind the helm, and that has seemed to be the case. During the transition, we tried to keep things business as usual, and we are working on transitioning to a new and improved club this coming spring.

And now, the fun part: What do you actually do?

One of the things that we love most about the business is providing the opportunity for people in our community to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors while strengthening their ties to the community. Because we organize large group adventures, we are able to utilize our community partnerships to get great deals for our members, allowing them to take advantage of trips they might not be able to afford on their own. (Those profit-oriented rafting companies mentioned above? We have a great relationship with one of them out in West Virginia, and partner with them several times a year!) We have adventures year ‘round, and wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the ways you can have fun during all 4 seasons!

Winter

One of our favorite winter trips is a long weekend where club members gather at several rented houses at Snowshoe Resort in West Virginia. Members are able to decide what level of excitement they want in their weekend (Quiet house? Party house? Somewhere in between?) and pick what outdoor activities they want to enjoy during the trip. Besides the standard downhill skiing and snowboarding, there is also cross country skiing, snow tubing and snowshoeing. When members want to come in from the cold, there is always plenty of food and lots of activities, ranging from movie showings and board games to live music and wine tastings.

Skiing

Skiing

Spring

While the early spring is usually cold and icy in our neck of the woods, the many caves and caverns that dot the landscape are a balmy 55 degrees year ‘round. Our members are able to take advantage of caving trips throughout the year, and here is the hilarious and awesome description given by one of our members (and a fellow co-op owner):

“If you’ve never been caving, it’s kind of like scrambling around in a field of large boulders with only your trusty headlamp to light your way. Sometimes you’ll be walking upright through large “rooms” while at other points you might be crawling or squeezing through a small passageway, scrambling up a wall of boulders, or fording a small stream. Throughout the cave, you’ll have the opportunity to admire formations such as stalagmites (“g” is for ground), stalactites (“c” is for ceiling), and cave “bacon.” Speaking of food, lunchtime in the cave is a great time to experience absolute darkness and see sparks fly when you chew on a Wint-O-Green lifesaver.”

Caving

Caving

Summer

Summer is the time when everyone manages to get outside, so we end up having more adventures going on than you could ever imagine attending. From hiking or mountain biking the local trails, kayaking under the full moon, sailing the Chesapeake Bay, playing sand volleyball, river tubing on the James River, climbing the Via Ferrata or playing frisbee golf to volunteering at a local organic farm, wine tastings or cooking club, we lead activities for all ages and activity levels. The weather stays amazing from late spring into early fall in central Virginia, minus the pesky hot (did we mention hot?) weather in August, so there’s always a chance to take advantage of the longer days.

Canoe and Kayak

Canoe and Kayak

Fall

Every October, there is a dam release on the Upper Gauley River in the New River Gorge of West Virginia. Members have taken advantage of this opportunity for years on end; the weekend is usually jam-packed with things to do, from hanging out with friends at Bridge Day watching base jumping, to outdoor rock climbing in the gorge, or whitewater kayaking. There’s hiking, mountain biking, tree-top tours, standup paddle boarding, fishing, horseback riding, and nearly anything else you can imagine in the river range of the town of Fayetteville.

white_water

white_water

All Seasons Travel

Along with trips to other states close by, we also like to spread our wings and do some traveling. This spring and summer, we have members heading to a mountaineering class on Mount Washington, New Hampshire, some folks making the trek to the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal, and a 10 day backpacking trip through Sequoia National Park to Mount Whitney. There are generally at least a few trips of this type planned per year, and along with our other big adventures, give our members the opportunity to make some amazing outdoor memories.

Everest 9-4

Everest 9-4

Jessica

Jessica

Hopefully now that you’ve read over the description of the business and what we do, you’ll be inspired to get outdoors more, find friends to drag with you, or even start your own outdoor cooperative in your town! It’s been a great learning experience for all of us, and has allowed a fun local business to grow and evolve in a sustainable way. As for us, we’ll be busy behind the scenes keeping things running, but we hope to see you outside enjoying all the great outdoors has to offer. And, if you’re ever in Virginia, stop by and have an outdoor adventure with us!

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Jessica is a freelance graphic designer, environmental activist & organizer, social media queen, musician, non-conformist, tree-hugger, ruckus-raiser, and lover of all things fuzzy. Her design work can be found at www.verdantspringdesign.com and all things cooperative live at www.outdoorsocial.com.