The Great (Urban) Outdoors
January 11, 2020
From the pages of Issue 5: Black + White
An interview with Sarah Knapp of Mappy Hour | @mappy_hour
Sarah Knapp, while sitting with her friend Alex at the Stumptown Coffee Roasters on 8th Street in New York City, stumbled upon a solution to a problem many people didn’t even know existed: the lack of outdoor community in urban areas. She had a hunch that if she could get people together over drinks, she likely could also get them to hover over maps and plan outdoor adventures. Mappy Hour—an amalgamation of Maps and Happy Hour—was born in 2014 at a time when the conversations about who and what qualified as “outdoorsy” were just beginning to evolve. Today Mappy Hour is comprised of more than 5,000 members who belong to 15 chapters. Sarah’s built a national community of urban-dwelling outdoor enthusiasts who gather monthly around maps, guidebooks, beer, and adventure stories, and she wants you to join in the fun. We sat down with Sarah to find out more about Mappy Hour, and we asked her to round up some of her co-conspirators from urban areas around the US to debunk some of the myths and open up our minds to some of the possibilities of recreating in urban areas.
What has been your experience in the outdoors as an urban dweller?
Part of why I wanted to start Mappy Hour in the first place was because of the personal exploration I had in New York City. I went to school there and when I was in college, I didn’t do much in the outdoors. I felt really separate from it, as if a part of me was missing. After college I felt like I had to move to the mountains to be an outdoor person and have an outdoor experience. But I realized that I missed New York City, so I moved back. This led me to a personal exploration of the city from riding my bike, to checking out the urban parks, to going to the beach, to paddling in all of the different waterways that New York City offers. What really excites me the most about the work that I do is that while there are really epic adventures to have in national parks and wild places, it’s really special to be able to go on a subway or ride your bike from midtown Manhattan. My personal experience has been to try to find those places and my professional experience has been to try to share it.
What are some of the misnomers used around recreation and the outdoors in urban spaces?
Part of the conversation is broadening the definition of outdoor reaction to be something that you can do without gear and in an afternoon. It is much more all-encompassing than perhaps a more traditional view of outdoor recreation. This definition has changed a lot since I started Mappy Hour, both in the outdoor industry and how people see themselves as outdoor enthusiasts. It has to do with our self identity, about what it means to be an active person who spends time in nature, and the words used around being active in nature.
Why is it important to you to craft a new narrative about what it means to both have a love of the outdoors and live in an urban area?
The future of how people live depends on it. Current trends show that more and more people are moving into urban areas and I believe that outdoor recreation and nature is essential for the majority of humans. We need to support, promote, and connect urban dwellers to the outdoors. And with more people living in cities, the future of the outdoor industry will be defined by them as well.
What do you want people to know about Mappy Hour?
At Mappy Hour we focus on the fact that by living in an urban environment and being multidimensional people with different interests, we need to help create the community that connects them to the outdoors so that it becomes part of our larger routine or lifestyle. One of the goals is to provide a space to actually share their passions for the outdoors when that might not be the dominant culture of whatever other spaces they exist in. We also are able to highlight and celebrate the local. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific city and each city is so different. The featured speakers are specific to the city and they highlight initiatives in each city. There’s an opportunity for people who are doing cool work to share it, and my dream is to elevate that to a more national level.
What does the future hold for Mappy Hour?
The future of Mappy Hour is two parts. First, how do we share the stories of leaders who are doing the great work in these cities with a national audience so that we can build and learn from one another? The other major thing we’re trying to think through is how do people actually connect with each other and build trust to go outside and share these adventures? Beyond a meeting, are there other tools and ways that we can facilitate connections between people? What does it look like to meet a stranger and then become hiking buddies, and how do we facilitate that process? I may have started Mappy Hour in New York, but I want to create a structure for other people to build their own communities and that is one of the most exciting things about Mappy Hour: the people in the other cities are doing the work.
Name & Location: Erica Zazo, Mappy Hour Chicago, Illinois
How long have you been a local? 4 years
What’s one outdoor gem in your city? The Openlands Lakeshore Preserve. It features the best of all things Chicago: art, history, Lake Michigan shoreline, and a mix of trails.
What’s your go-to restaurant, cafe, or bar to refuel post-excursion? Old Irving Brewery for a Beezer (the greatest NEIPA on the planet) and an OIB burger.
What’s the future of outdoor recreation in your city? The outdoor community in Chicago is bubbling and I can feel it's starting to almost boil over. You can see that in local climbing gyms, in hiking groups on Facebook such as Women Who Hike Illinois, and the turnout for conservation organization meetups and trail cleanups. The eagerness to get outside and do "outdoorsy" things like paddling the Chicago River or hiking at a local Forest Preserve is top of mind for many people. Our Chicago outdoor community is certainly on the up and up.
What would surprise people about recreating in urban areas? Nature is closer than you think. There are a number of public transit lines that can take you to wild spaces, you can find local parks with gravel walking trails in city neighborhoods, and you can get to a local trail in most cities in less than 30 minutes by car.
What’s your outdoor playlist? I listen to a lot of acoustic, instrumental and indie artists, like alt-J, Local Natives, Young the Giant, and Ben Howard.
Name & Location: Sarah Davis, Mappy Hour Springfield, Missouri
How long have you been a local? All my life!
What’s one outdoor gem in your city? Valley Water Mill Park on the northeast side of town. It has about every type of outdoor environment (glades, woodland, wetlands, and a beautiful spring-fed lake). There are trails and docks for fishing. It’s also recognized for its birding opportunities!
What’s your go-to restaurant, cafe, or bar to refuel post-excursion? I love a post-hike beer. We have several great local craft breweries in town, but my favorite is Tie & Timber Beer Co.
How would you “do the outdoors” with only $20 in your pocket? Put gas in the car and drive two hours south to the Buffalo River for a day of hiking!
Local outdoor shop where you pick up supplies, equipment, clothing, etc.? Gearhead Outfitters.
What’s in your pack—what do you not leave home without? I love my North Face Thermoball which comes in handy with Missouri’s ever-changing weather.
Name & Location: Tasmin Andres, Mappy Hour Cleveland, Ohio
How long have you been a local? Born and raised!
What’s one outdoor gem in your city? Dike 14, which is a former lakefront landfill that is now a nature preserve with an amazing view of the skyline.
What’s your go-to restaurant, cafe, or bar to refuel post-excursion? Beer and a slice with honey at Edison's Pub.
What would surprise people about recreating in urban areas? I've been really getting into spotting predatory birds lately. It's known that falcons nest in some of the taller buildings downtown, and there are pockets all around Cleveland where you can see hawks and even owls. Look up!
What’s the future of outdoor recreation in your city? The Midwest doesn't often receive credit for being a destination for outdoor recreation, but there are so many gems. Between our freshwater lake, a national park in our backyard, and world-class climbing a half-day's drive away, Cleveland has it all. A strong network of resources dedicated to increasing access and inclusive programming is a critical next step.
What’s your outdoor playlist? I recently went on a ladies trip to climb in Joshua Tree and we made a collaborative playlist on Spotify. Not only did it eliminate the dreaded delegation of DJ, it was also so fun to guess who put what songs on. I've been bopping to it ever since.
Name & Location: Alexandra Tilsley, Mappy Hour Washington, D.C.
How long have you been a local? 5 years
What’s one outdoor gem in your city? The single track in Rock Creek Park!
What’s your go-to restaurant, cafe, or bar to refuel post-excursion? Wicked Bloom
How would you “do the outdoors” with only $20 in your pocket? In DC, there are so many ways to get outside cheap. Take a free boat tour on the Anacostia! Hike through Rock Creek! Run the Glover Archbold trail. Bike the Anacostia River Trail or mountain bike at Fort Dupont. Kayak on the Potomac, stroll through the aquatic gardens, explore the arboretum...and that's all without getting in a car.
What would surprise people about recreating in urban areas? There are so many trails—real, single-track, technical trails—within DC city limits. You might have to cross a few roads, but you can run a 50k in the District almost entirely on dirt.
What’s in your pack—what do you not leave home without? Lots of snacks. (Current favorites are Skratch bars and chews.)