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Outdoor Nation Merrell Delegate: Andrew Mills

Outdoor Nation Austin - Get Outside

So I was lucky enough to be able to go down to the great state of Texas two weekends ago as a delegate for Merrell for the Outdoor Nation Summit Series. Merrell selected and outfitted a few delegates (and one stoked tech rep-ME) to go and be a part of these events that have been taking place at a few key major cities across the country.

The purpose of the summits is to inspire, at a local level, a movement that encourages more people to get outside and enjoy the natural world around them. Now before this trip, I was a bit skeptical of what Texas could offer as far as “the outdoors” was concerned. Having never been to Texas I just assumed it was a bunch of ranches, that it’s ridiculously hot, and there isn’t anything fun to do outdoors. I was one for three on that.

The heat was there in full force, but I’ll get to that later. The biggest thing I learned was that not only was their fun things to do outdoors in Austin, and also the larger state of Texas, but there is a passionate community of people who want to see others enjoy all their state has to offer. Less than five minutes from downtown Austin you could be at a local climbing crag, or kayaking a river.

The first day began, and we were split into different groups based on similar geography. With most participants being from Austin, I was the odd man out from Boulder, CO. I hopped into a group from Austin, and quickly realized that these folks had big plans. I guess it is true, everything is bigger in Texas.

These groups that we were assembled in were tasked with coming up different proposals that in some manner encouraged participation in the outdoors or started conversations about getting outside. On the last day, we would all vote to decide the best ideas. The top ten ideas would receive funding to actually get their idea started.

Our group brainstormed a lot of great ideas, but we kept coming back to this idea that people in Austin needed to be informed of the great opportunities in their backyard. It wasn’t that people hated the outdoors, but rather they just didn’t know what was availed. In order to help them hear our message, we decided to form a “street team” of sorts.

The group would run a low budget, guerilla marketing campaign that would help highlight the efforts of groups in the area and also the amazing recreation available in the greater Austin community. If successful, the idea could also be a blueprint for other groups to use in their cities.

We wrapped up the first day with an idea starting to form, but hadn’t worked out details. However, it was time for dinner, and that meant a little Texas BBQ. We ate outside in McKinney Falls State Park, which also would be our campsite for the night. After dinner, another outdoor brand, The North Face, had a few of their sponsored athletes tell their stories and how they found a passion for the outdoors. As the conversation with the athletes and some great folks from Leave No Trace winded down, a lighting storm rolled in as darkness set.

Bolts darted from cloud to cloud as the Austin contingent met to discuss details. After deliberations, we settled on a name, how the presentation would go, and who would be speaking. A few other groups split off to pursue projects that complimented the work of the “street team”.
Soon it became dark and the clouds looked ominous, but that never stopped a group of adventurous young people who have a state park to themselves. We soon found ourselves exploring the lower falls, but were cut short as the cloud to cloud lightening soon became a real storm.

Now, I’m originally from Michigan, and I now live in a mountain environment. This means that I’m not good in the heat, not good at all. Being stuck that night in a tent, with the moisture from the pouring rain increasing the humidity, the hot air becoming more and more sticky by the minute. It did not make for a great night’s sleep. However, our fly and tent kept us dry. The same can’t be said for the rest of the group. Bummer!

Not a fun night in the classic sense because of the rain, but definitely Type Two Fun. The next day was presentations. The group had come up with 19 different ideas!!! It would be hard to narrow it down to just the top 10, but we would get through. Every group took a different and unique approach, which kept the day refreshing as we heard the new ideas.

In the end, the Austin street team group that I was a part of ended up with the second place grant of $1,500!!! The group has met already and is meeting again this week to start planning their tactics for getting the word out about the great outdoors.

The adventure from this trip didn’t end at the conference though. A fellow Merrell delegate and I got the opportunity to try some indoor camping…as we slept in cots at the Dallas Fort-Worth airport due to missing our connections because of weather delays.

All in all though, a great experience and I’m excited to see how the work that started in Austin continues.