Lack of access to gear that makes getting outside so enjoyable can be a barrier for some, and a relatively new outdoor gear library in Alexandria is making it easier to get the necessary equipment to take to the outdoors for any number of activities.
The Outdoor Library located in the Community Education office at Woodland Elementary offers four seasons’ worth of fun with their library of outdoor equipment purchased by the Alexandria Viking Sportsmen Club and Douglas County Pheasants Forever.
The library opened in October of 2020.
“This whole thing was started to get kids and adults outdoors,” Community Education director Lynn Jenc said. “So much research points to being outside, in nature, to be a stress reliever. Fresh air and sunshine are very beneficial for people to help reduce their stress and anxiety.”
The Outdoor Gear Library features various inexpensive activity equipment that will keep you busy all year long.
According to Jenc, the yard games have been very popular during the graduation-party season and other outdoor social gatherings in the summer.
The games cost $3 per day and feature games like Life Size Connect-4, Giant Jenga, badminton, volleyball and cornhole sets, ladder golf, spike ball and four square.
Camping & Hiking
The library camping package lends the user a propane stove; propane not provided; an LED lantern, two inflatable sleeping mats, a hammock big enough for two people and a seven-person tent, all for $3 per day.
If you plan to do some hiking, you can also rent a set of hiking poles and a bird-watching kit which includes binoculars, two copies of the Kaufman Field Guide of North American Birds, and a Douglas County bird checklist. Both of which cost $1 per day.
Bikes & Water
Bikes can also be rented out through the library. The cost is $20 per day per bike and includes a bike rack that attaches to the hitch of a car. There are multiple sizes of bikes to choose from, depending on the size of the rider.
For those looking to get out on the water, multiple kayaks are available. The library’s website says their sit-in-style kayak is perfect for beginners and those looking to enjoy a stable and relaxing experience. And an open cockpit kayak is ideal for fishing. The kayaks each cost $2 per day.
An aqua mat is also available for rent and costs $4 per day.
A hunting package is available for rent during turkey season. It includes a ground blind with two blind chairs, a turkey box call, a hunting vest and both hen and tom decoys for $3 per day. A hunting license obtained through the DNR is required to hunt turkey.
No excuses to let winter keep you indoors; the library added plenty of equipment to keep you busy even in the coldest of months.
Their Ice Fishing Package includes an ice shelter, rods and lures, a propane heater — again, propane not included — a lantern, and of course, a hand auger. The package costs $5 per day.
For those looking to get more exercise in the winter months, cross-country skis and snowshoe sets are available for $2 per day.
When this idea was formed, research was compiled from surveys sent out to students within the district to determine exactly which equipment their audience would be interested in. There was also research into the University of Minnesota Duluth’s gear library, what type of equipment they offer and how they operate.
“We did digging on liability and what type of equipment is popular for them to help determine the types of equipment for us to purchase,” said Jenc.
The Library originally opened in Oct. of 2020 with just fishing and hunting equipment. The library had a slow start due to covid.
“It was a challenge,” remarked Jenc.
But by wintertime, cross country skis and snowshoes were added to the catalog and became the most popular items. And things really picked up in the springtime with the addition of the kayaks, according to Jenc.
“It took a little bit to get the word out. And we are still in our infant stage, but we had a great first year,” said Jenc, “I am hoping this is a forever library. We will continue to grow by asking the community what they would like to have available at the library.”
The library would like to add “Fat Bikes” to the catalog — bikes with wider tires for extra traction in the winter months. “It will be really fun to watch what the next year brings in,” says Jenc.
The library has no limit on what people can check out. Jenc says they purchased the items to be used, so they want to see them utilized.
When an item is unavailable, the staff at the library will refer you to an item you haven’t tried yet and hopefully introduce you to a new opportunity outdoors.
“We had someone come in to get a pair of cross-country skis, but unfortunately, they were all rented out,” Jenc said. “We convinced them to try snowshoes, something they had never done before. When they returned the shoes, they described the experience as amazing.”
Community Education handles the rental process, but Jenc described the library as the “brain-child” of the Viking Sportsmen and Pheasants Forever.
“Without their support and contribution, the library would not be possible,” Jenc said.
While equipment donations may be accepted, the library prefers financial donations to ensure the equipment provided is safe and reliable for the community. To get started with gear rentals, call the Community Education office at Woodland Elementary during business hours — Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. — and set up a date and time to pick up the equipment. Call (320)-762-3310. Pay over the phone with your card or in person. All forms of payment are accepted.
“Enjoy the outdoors, be brave, and try something new,” Jenc said. “You may surprise yourself. You may discover a new passion.”