Golden Gate Bridge
Photo credit: Anthony Quintano

REI Tops $1 Million to ‘Rewild’ 5 Major US Cities

For the third straight year, the Seattle-based retailer invests to ‘reverse the trend’ of living indoors.

Golden Gate Bridge
Photo credit: Anthony Quintano

You might not think of Los Angeles, Chicago, or Washington, D.C., as outdoors destinations. But that may change soon thanks to the continued financial support and nonprofit partnership spearheaded by REI.

Now in their third year, REI’s “rewilding projects” aim to improve outdoor recreation infrastructure and access within five urban centers: San Francisco; Los Angeles; Chicago; Washington, D.C; and Seattle. And with a donation of more than $600,000 this year, the effort has now generated $1.6 million to add and maintain trails, improve public transit routes, publicize outdoor recreation options, and more.

REI ‘Rewilding’ US Cities

Washington D.C. traffic
Photo courtesy: REI

“With almost 80 percent of the United States population living in urban areas — and the fact that the average American spends 95 percent of their life indoors — we decided it was the time to rewild cities,” said Kristen Ragain, REI’s philanthropy and community partnership manager.

This year’s investment backs up a report REI published last year analyzing the effects of an indoor vs. outdoor lifestyle. Titled “The Path Ahead,” REI’s report aimed to demonstrate the benefits of spending more time outside.

With the help of local nonprofit partners in each of the five target cities, REI’s rewilding efforts add more outdoor recreation opportunities in areas dominated by indoor lifestyles.

Cyclist in Washington D.C.
Cyclist in Washington, D.C., Photo courtesy of REI

San Francisco: Bay Area Ridge Trail

REI worked with the Bay Area Ridge Trail Council to revamp the 550-mile-long multi-use trail’s website, improve trail communications and funding efforts, and build new sections of trail. To date, 375 miles of the trail are open, and it services more than 8 million people.

Los Angeles: San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

In collaboration with the National Forest Foundation and The Wilderness Society, REI’s rewilding works to build and restore trails. It also increases access to the park by connecting public transit and urban trail routes with the mountains.

Chicago: Big Marsh

Big Marsh bike park
Big Marsh Park, photo courtesy: REI

Turn an old industrial dumping ground into a world-class outdoor recreation destination — that’s the goal in Chicago’s southeast side. So REI, the SRAM Cycling Foundation, Chicago Parks Foundation, Active Transportation Alliance, and Friends of Big Marsh have worked to create a 275-acre mixed-use trail area. In fact, the group now touts Big Marsh as one of the largest mountain bike parks in the country.

Washington, D.C.: Capital Trails Coalition

REI initially invested $500,000 in 2016 to help spur the creation of the Capital Trails Coalition. Since then, stakeholders like the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Rails to Trails Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Land have worked together to blaze a multi-use trail network extending more than 600 miles around the metro area.

Seattle: Urban Trail Network

In REI’s backyard, rewilding meant adding 15 miles of mixed-use trails to fill gaps and connect downtown Seattle to South Park and Georgetown.

Adam Ruggiero

Adam Ruggiero is the editor-in-chief of GearJunkie and a fan of virtually all sports and activities. From biking, running, and (not enough) surfing, to ball sports, camping, and cattle farming — if it's outside, it's worth doing. Adam graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BA in journalism. Likes: unique beer, dogs, stories. Like nots: neckties, escalators, manicured lawns.