We all know that Minnesota is known to be a beautiful state with endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, but how comfortable are you when trying a new sport or wilderness activity? Would you have the equipment needed to rock climb, kayak or camp? Do you feel safe hiking by yourself or certain that someone of your gender, race or ability is welcome in an outdoor space?
These were all questions that Miranda Mauer and Alexa Shapiro asked themselves when envisioning the Winona Outdoor Collaborative (WOC). Founded by Alexa in 2019, the group originally initially focused on women, then expanded in 2020 to include all genders.
For Miranda, who graduated from Winona State with a double major in therapeutic recreation and recreation tourism, the group was the perfect way to connect her interests in community, the outdoors and accessible spaces.
“We created the WOC with the intention of facilitating a safe space for people of all genders and backgrounds to recreate safely outdoors. We want people to feel comfortable and to realize that nature can be accessible to everyone, even if they’ve never done outdoor activities in the past.”
As part of that mission, the WOC hosts free monthly meetups, quarterly paid workshops and immersive retreats where participants can go on a fully guided outdoor adventure with trained experts, outdoor enthusiasts and other learners.
“The monthly meetups have been extremely popular, and we are so excited for the trips we have planned for this summer,” Miranda says. Though the trips are affordably priced, the group also offers scholarships and assistance for those who need it. “If someone has a barrier to joining an activity we want them to tell us, and we’ll do the best we can to make it work” she says.
Miranda and Alexa have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be “outdoorsy”—and how to overcome the obstacles that can keep newcomers from getting involved in outdoor activities. Miranda says, “Traditionally the outdoor space has been dominated by men, usually white, and the equipment needed can be expensive. We wanted to open up that space so that everyone can experience the benefits of being outside, even if they’ve never considered themselves ‘the outdoor type.’”
People from all over the region are welcome to get involved, and Miranda is grateful for the connections they’ve been forging with area organizations. “A lot of our events have been focused on collaborations—we even opened a store in the Sanborn Canoe Company called Basecamp Provisions!” Through the retail space they are even able to provide low-cost equipment rental.
In the next year Miranda hopes to focus on creating resources for adaptive outdoor experiences in Winona, a growing trend in the outdoor recreation space.
What would Miranda say to someone who has NEVER done anything outdoors but wants to try? “Get outside of your comfort zone! You might find a brand new community who is super supportive and welcoming. You never know how a hobby will benefit your well-being and your journey in life.”
Want to get involved in the WOC? The group is active on social media, and you can find their website at winonaoutdoorcollaborative.com. There are many volunteer opportunities, and as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization they welcome both private and corporate donations. Curious about trying out a new hobby? Head to a meetup and see what happens! “In my opinion the best experiences come from going with the flow and following what feels good,” says Miranda.
We’re inclined to agree.