Wish to get open air? New program gives free gear leases and coaching to discover county parks

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If you want to try mountain biking or need tips on pitching a tent, San Diego County can help get you started and provide you with the gear you need to explore the county’s parks.

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On Wednesday, county officials launched Experience the Outdoors, a program that offers free outdoor activities, education, equipment rentals and even transportation to help San Diego residents learn about natural spaces in their community.

“The goal of this program is simple: It’s to introduce more San Diego residents to the incredible resources that are available to them, often resources that people don’t even know exist in their own backyards,” says Nathan Fletcher, chairman of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said Wednesday morning at a news conference at the Los Penasquitos Canyon County Preserve.

The program includes an introduction to parks, guided mountain biking and nature walks for young people. These events are open to all, but cater to those who have never participated in outdoor recreation and lack the resources to do so.

The Parks 101 activity series provides hands-on training in hiking, camping, bird watching and other outdoor pursuits, with events ranging from a few hours to overnight campouts.

Sessions start with basics like choosing appropriate footwear, climbing slopes safely, and dealing with rattlesnakes and other native wildlife, said Jessica Geiszler, marketing and public relations manager for the San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation.

Campers learn how to pitch a tent, use lanterns and light a camp stove. And participants will interact with ambassador animals like hawks or owls, she said. Capacity ranges from about 20 people for a backpacking trip to 50 to 75 for a camping event, Geiszler said

“We provide all materials and transportation,” including rental tents, sleeping bags, cookware and other gear, she said.

A September event at Lake Morena County Park will introduce participants to fishing and kayaking, with all fishing tackle and boats available for free loan, park director Brian Albright said. Other sessions focus on specific topics such as astronomy and stargazing, backpacking for women, rock climbing and gardening.

Another initiative, Rad Regional Parks, will highlight each of the county’s 23 regional parks over a two-year period, offering free parking, events and activities throughout the month at the featured park.

The Ride On program will teach cyclists how to use mountain bikes and navigate country roads. Guided trips take place every second Saturday of the month and can accommodate up to 18 people aged 8 and over.

Participants must register in advance and can book a free rental based on their height, said Peter Hulbert, director of the bike rental program for REI, a partner of the county program with the San Diego Mountain Biking Association.

“If you’re a single mom with three kids and you want to mountain bike but don’t have bikes, how are you going to mountain bike?” Fletcher asked. “Now we give you the mountain bikes, we give you the helmets. Would you like to learn to climb? We’ll show you.”

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher speaks at a news conference announcing a new program aimed at making outdoor activities available to all San Diego residents.

(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lenders are removing a cost barrier to outdoor sports, Hulbert said, noting that a mountain bike can cost as much as $3,000. Other equipment such as B. Climbing gear, can cost hundreds of dollars.

Eliminating those startup costs can allow people to explore their interests and develop healthy habits, organizers said.

“The ultimate mission is to bridge the access gap between people and nature, connecting them to nature and supporting their mental health and fitness,” said Chantel Clark, director of sales at REI.

Fletcher said the idea for the park programs, which he foreshadowed in his March state address, stemmed from the gap between the county’s extensive park system and its visitor patterns.

There are 156 county parks in San Diego, spanning 60,000 acres, Albright said. But many people weren’t using them, so the next step was to pave the way for greater participation.

“Our county has invested heavily over the past decade to build these incredible treasures,” Fletcher said. “Now we need to invest to make sure people have access to them.”