At the National Forest Foundation, we believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience our National Forests, especially communities who have historically had limited access to them. The NFF sat down (virtually) with Oliver Reitz, the Administrative Coordinator at the Venture Out Project, to discuss the organization’s work leading outdoor adventures with LGBTQ+ individuals.
National Forest Foundation: In your own words, what is the Venture Out Project?
Oliver Reitz: The Venture Out Project, we lead wilderness and backpacking trips for the queer and trans community. Basically we take queer people outside. We do all kinds of fun trips. We do hiking and backpacking but we also do snowshoeing, we do ski and snowboard trips, we do climbing nights at local rock gyms. It’s really just about building community and doing that through the outdoors and outdoor activities.
NFF: What was the inspiration for an organization like Venture Out Project?
OR: Our founder Perry, he worked a corporate job for a long time and at some point he came out as trans and he wanted to be a part of an outdoor queer organization. When he realized that didn’t exist, he created it.
NFF: When we think about why that organization didn’t exist, what inequalities do we see in the outdoors that the Venture Out Project helped address?
OR: Queer people have always been in the outdoors just like a lot of underserved communities have always been in the outdoors. It just hasn’t been recognized and the outdoor community as a whole is a very straight, cis, white, able-bodied, typically male community and a lot of queer people don’t feel comfortable in that environment: [they] don’t feel welcomed. That’s what we’re trying to create here, a more welcoming environment. For LGBT folx to get outside and enjoy nature. I myself had never gone on a hike before I moved to New England and then I discovered the Venture Out Project and I love the outdoors now. I hike all the time. It’s about introducing people to nature who maybe didn’t feel welcomed there before.
NFF: There’s a conversation going around in the outdoors community about the difference between “a group being invited to experience the outdoors” and “this program was made with this group in mind.”
OR: We get that a lot, like “well the outdoors is for everyone” and “everyone’s welcome outdoors” and sure, anyone can go outside but there’s a lot of access issues when it comes to gear [and] being able to afford the right kind of gear to be able to go outside. There’s access issues when it comes to the other people who exist outside and being possibly fearful of those people.
NFF: What has been your most memorable experience on a Venture Out trip?
OR: There’s so many. I would say we did a trip in 2016 to the White Mountains and it was an experienced trip and I was semi-experienced. I’d only been hiking and backpacking for a year at that point and I’d been doing a lot of it. I think that trip really proved to me what I could do [and] what my body could do because it was really hard but it just felt great, every bit of it.
NFF: What do you like most about going on trips in National Forests?
OR: For me, generally with the ones we go to, I love the scale of everything. Getting to the top of a mountain and being surrounded by so many other mountains that all seem just as big and grand.
NFF: We’re always thinking about how to keep our forests safe and healthy. What kinds of lessons about recreating responsibly do you teach on your trips?
OR: We definitely abide by Leave No Trace guidelines and try to teach all of our backpackers about those guidelines: packing in, packing out, leaving it just as you found it. We always go over that at the beginning of the trip and throughout the trip to try and keep our spaces the way they are.
You can find more information about The Venture Out Project, how to get involved, and how to donate to help them continue their work here.