When you hear the word library, your first thought probably isn’t about camping and hiking gear. But as of last week, that’s exactly the kind of library nestled in the basement of Portland’s Equality Community Center in the heart of the Arts District.
Last week, partners Hallie Herz and Eva Fury officially launched the Kindling Collective, a nonprofit outdoor gear rental service with an emphasis on the queer community.
The mission of the Kindling Collective is to support LGBTQ individuals who have felt excluded from physical education and athletics, or felt unsafe or unwelcome in outdoor recreation activities.
“Most things are centered around straight people and queer people have to figure out how to get in,” Herz said.
The goal is to create access to camping and hiking gear for LGBTQ people to create more accessibility to outdoor activities. Memberships are available on a tiered fee structure model as low as $5 per month, and members can check out any of the more than 400 items stored at the Equality Community Center.
Those interested in becoming a member who lack the ability to pay won’t be turned away, and Herz and Fury also make gear available for free to rent to those descended from enslaved or indigenous people. The LGBTQ community faces barriers to accessing outdoor equipment given its high costs, Herz and Fury note, adding that marginalized people are often denied access to both the gear but also the knowledge of how to use it to recreate outside.
The duo said the idea had been in the works going back to October 2021, when they were on a hike.
“That hike and being outside and connecting with nature is really healing for us,” Fury said. “We wanted to create a space where more people could access that connection to nature.”
Herz, 34, is a former school teacher with 15 years of experience leading outdoor trips. Fury, 35, formerly worked in public health, but has led trainings in the LGBTQ community. Both of them left their jobs during the pandemic, and were working in the service industry in Portland until last week, though they each left those jobs to focus on the Kindling Collective for the summer.
The two estimate the gear they offer is cumulatively worth $50,000 to $60,000.
Most of the gear, ranging from tents and backpacks to sleeping pads, cots and cookware, was donated from brands in the industry. The group also received fundraising help from Outdoors Empowered Network, a national network of community-led outdoor education groups aiming to make accessible and diversify outdoor sports.
“If someone wants to go camping, we have everything they need to do that,” Herz said. “…We have things for people who want to do ultra-light and intense backpacking, also gear for people who want to be comfortable.”
Eventually the two plan to lead trips and host events, such as an intro to whitewater rafting later in June. Over the winter, they hosted a “queer cross-country ski day” which sold out in 48 hours. Of the 35 people who participated, most had been new to the sport.
“A lot of it is creating community and creating a space for people to experiment,” Herz said.
While the Kindling Collective is “queer-focused,” membership is also available to straight and cisgender people who “support, affirm, uplift, love and/or care about LGBTQ+ people,” their website states.
While the first of its kind in Portland, the Kindling Collective is not the state’s first gear library. The Maine GearShare in Brunswick has been around since 2017, and the Millinocket Public Library offers its own outdoor gear rental service.
Herz and Fury held a “coming-out party” to launch on June 10, offering “beta testing” for renting out the gear. In addition to guided trips in the future, the organization will also offer education, outdoor classes and keep office hours for those looking for help planning a trip.