It’s easy to enjoy the Maine outdoors.
Except it’s slightly less easy when you show up to an overnight camping trip without a tent. Or to an ice rink without skates. Or when there’s two feet of freshly fallen snow on the trails at Riverside Golf Course and you don’t even own a pair of mittens, let alone skis.
In those cases, having the right equipment makes all the difference.
“Gear makes the outdoors accessible,” said Brooke Burkett, director of leadership adventure programs at Camp Ketcha in Scarborough. “If you go out in a cotton hoodie and sweatpants in winter, you’re not going to have a good time.”
But acquiring the right gear, from wool socks and sleeping bags to a bicycle or pair of snowshoes, can get expensive.
A new collaboration between Camp Ketcha and the Community Bike Center in Biddeford aims to make that all-important gear easy to get, which makes the Maine outdoors easier to enjoy. The Portland Gear Hub, located at the Portland YMCA on Forest Ave., is now home to a small but growing gear library, thrift shop, and workspace.
The gear library includes an array of outdoor equipment that can be rented for a small fee by individuals, families, outdoors groups, and area organizations. Locals who want to venture out on the freshly fallen snow or head into the Maine woods for a weekend camping trip are no longer hindered by a lack of equipment or the inability to spend big bucks on new gear.
Outdoor adventure clubs, like those run by Camp Ketcha, now have a resource for equipment that before was sometimes hard to come by. Burkett recalled calling around to friends to borrow ice skates for youth in Camp Ketcha programs, because they simply didn’t have the funds or the storage space to buy and store all that equipment. The Portland Gear Hub helps to support programs local organizations are already running, she said.
And kids who try ice skating or snowshoeing at Camp Ketcha or with another youth group can come to Portland Gear Hub with their families, rent equipment, and enjoy the sport together. Because love for the outdoors can be wonderfully contagious like that.
There’s already a growing stock of gear at the hub. Sleeping bags hang from a ceiling-mounted rack, and wooden bins (built by friends and volunteers) hold organized stacks of sleeping mats, hiking boots, backpacks, and ski poles.
With donations coming in from local homes and organizations like Goodwill, the reserves are slowly being built up. With the weather turning colder and winter activities just around the corner, Burkett said the hub would love to get more donations of gently used ice skates and snowshoes.
They’re also accepting donations of tents, camp stoves, outdoor apparel, bike parts and tools, winter boots, cross-country skis and boots, and just about any other piece of outdoor gear that’s sitting unused in a nearby basement or garage.
In addition to the gear library, Portland Gear Hub also plans to sell equipment in their thrift retail shop. Currently, there’s a selection of fixed-up adult and children’s bicycles for sale (just in time for the holidays) with plans to expand the store once the inventory grows.
Portland Gear Hub’s workshop space is available to local cyclists to work on their bikes using their own tools or Portland Gear Hub tools. Bench time is available on a by-donation basis, with a suggested donation of $5 to $15, and includes guidance from bike-smart volunteers.
Outdoor education workshops will also be offered at the space. A beginner/intermediate bicycle mechanic skills workshop series is already underway at 5:30 pm Wednesday evenings through November 13. That workshop includes a one-hour educational session with a bike mechanic, and access to Portland Gear Hub’s tool. Admission is by donation.
Portland Gear Hub’s gear library and thrift shop will be open Monday and Thursday afternoons and equipment can be rented on a daily, half-week, or weekly basis. Renters can call the hub at 207-883-8977 to inquire about rentals (they aim to have an online rental system up and running soon).
Annual membership costs: Youth-serving organizations and non-profits: $100, individuals: $50, households (four members, whether related or not): $80, and other organizations: $150. The membership helps support the Gear Hub and allows members to rent gear for a small fee.
Donations can be dropped off at Portland Gear Hub or at the Community Bike Center in Biddeford. To schedule a drop-off, call or email Brooke Burkett at 883-8977 or firstname.lastname@example.org.