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Tracing Back to Our Roots

Jenna Gneiski, Marketing Intern

In the spirit of the outdoors, I’d like to start off this blog post with a meaningful quote. 

“It is in the roots, not the branches, that a tree’s greatest strength lies.”

― Matshona Dhliwayo, philosopher and entrepreneur 

Every tree was once planted from a seed and grew roots, including Venture Outdoors almost twenty years ago. 

This is the story of how we came to be.


After traveling and exploring different parts of the country, Mike Schiller, an outdoorsman and native of Western Pennsylvania, returned back to his roots. In the early 2000s, he observed that not many Pittsburghers were engaging in or exploring outdoor activities such as kayaking, hiking or rock climbing. Several parks and outdoor spaces are located around the area, yet no one was taking advantage of them. To fulfill his urge to venture outdoors, Mike went on different outings with several other organizations but found that his expectations were not met and the experiences fell short time and time again. 

(Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

That’s when his idea hit: he wanted to create an organization that combined high-quality outdoor recreation with knowledge of the environment. The idea took off after he connected with several influential Pittsburghers, which then led him to pitch the idea to the Richard King Mellon Foundation. In late summer of 2001, Venture Outdoors (previously called The Field Institute of Western Pennsylvania) officially became an organization. 

In an interview with the Post-Gazette back in 2002, Mike said he was thrilled to already see “things changing and happening and people responding,” and said, without wanting to sound schmaltzy, “One could argue that I’ve found my life’s work.” 

One of the major milestones in Venture Outdoor’s history is the opening of Kayak Pittsburgh. In the early days, the Field Institute borrowed kayaks from The Three Rivers Rowing Association on Washington’s Landing. After several newspaper articles had been published, the Field Institute’s small kayak trips had started to gain popularity. Mike saw this as an opportunity and created a business plan for a kayak rental service so that more Pittsburghers could enjoy time on the water. Funding from several organizations made it possible to purchase the first twenty kayaks and paddles for Kayak Pittsburgh. It was also through his connections that Mike was able to secure the spot underneath the Roberto Clemente Bridge on the North Shore for their location. Kayak Pittsburgh has since opened two more convenient locations in the Pittsburgh area, making kayaking a more accessible activity for local residents.


The creation of this organization was pivotal in promoting accessibility to the outdoors in Western Pennsylvania. Venture Outdoors uses its roots to support and strengthen the community around us. Much like a tree, this organization plays a vital role in the environment and strives to continue to do so by educating, equipping, and inspiring people to get outside.



Inspire. Educate. Equip.  We remove barriers and create access to outdoor experiences. 

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