Inspired by Nature

By Nicole Cirino
Austin Market Coordinator
REI Outdoor Programs & Experiences

REI leading stretching exercises before the 2019 NTD on the VCT Fun Run.

What a dream it is to be inspired by your work.  

I moved to Texas three years ago. Having spent my entire life living in the Northeast, immersing myself into new landscapes was a thrill I dove headfirst into. Within the first year, I had explored Big Bend National Park, hiked Guadalupe Peak, camped on the National Seashore, and even camped in an ice-covered Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I was engaging with the outdoors more frequently, and I found that the way these trips fueled me and nurtured my mental wellness was leading me to seek every opportunity to enjoy nature and detach from the to-do lists and technology of my working life. Living in Austin enabled me to have access to incredible local trails, parks, and water access, all within city limits. I was enthralled. 

Surely, I am not unique in my admiration for Texas Hill Country. Getting to explore my new home through the lens of the outdoors has inspired a deeper sense of wonder with each interaction. My move also kickstarted a new way of making connections with the land and with other people who shared a similar drive to experience life alongside nature. I would soon discover the vast network of local organizations, volunteers, and advocates that were working towards the same mission to advocate for a life well-lived outside.  

During my second year in Texas, I was beginning to find my path as an advocate to protect the special ecosystems and spaces I was discovering, and a job opportunity with REI Co-Op found its way to me. The role combined supporting Austin nonprofits and organizations while also providing recreational programs that teach and encourage people to try something outside their comfort zones. I had been shopping at REI the past year, and had not known that these offerings were available. I was shocked at how intertwined the role was with local non-profits and the direct impact on people’s engagement with the outdoors, and with that, I was sold. 

My work through REI’s philanthropy programs allows me to take my inspiration and bring it to my partnerships with Austin’s outdoor non-profit groups who advocate for and maintain the beautiful spaces we enjoy and who fight for access to these spaces. Amplifying local groups like Hill Country Conservancy and learning more about the passionate leaders who dedicate their time and energy to continuously engage our community to be active stewards of the land has impacted my dedication to this work immensely. Getting a front row seat to learn about what they do and learning from the source inspires me to fight for and speak out on how we can all be a part of protecting our natural spaces and bring more equity to the way we recreate. The connections I have been able to make with urban trail nonprofits has been a huge eye-opener to the overall benefits these trails bring to our health and wellness as individuals and as a community.

Enjoying the Violet Crown Trail

The Violet Crown Trail was one of the first trails that really grabbed my attention. The vast network of trails we have in Austin, which allows you to get from one end of the city to another while being engulfed in nature along the way, was something I had not experienced to this extent anywhere I have lived before. I spent many days my first year in Austin meeting up with friends to explore this network of trails that connected with the Violet Crown Trail, filled with so much gratitude that the access was so centralized. Discovering that I would get to partner with Hill Country Conservancy and other local organizations through my new role was a driving factor for how I engage with advocacy outside of work, inspired by those who put their whole selves into their work.

This position has been a catalyst as well for me to advance my own outdoor passions and has encouraged me to take new chances to expand my own knowledge and skillsets. The programs we offer at REI cover a range of activities and offer learning programs and tours for those looking to find community through outdoor experiences. Our introductory programs are an amazing learning space where we bring people together to learn new skills and have fun doing it. I am fortunate to be able to instruct some of our programs and my specialties lie in our Essential Camping Skill and How to Ride Bike courses, which put me in a role to directly impact someone’s learning and to hopefully ignite their passion to continue developing their skills and experiencing the outdoors in new ways. Whether you are looking to learn more about paddling, climbing, mountain biking, or even the stars, there is a wide variety of options to get you started on your next outdoor passion. I am inspired daily by our participants who take chances and try new things.  

This past year has created a greater urgency around protecting accessible trails and supporting people to get outside and reap the benefits that nature has for our overall well-being. REI’s ongoing partnership with Hill Country Conservancy is one puzzle piece to the vast and important network of ways to get out and be engaged in the outdoors. We need your engagement and advocacy as well to continue to maintain and develop outdoor spaces. I hope to see you more involved in Hill Country Conservancy’s mission, out on the trail, at a stewardship event, or even in one of REI’s programs this year! Make 2021 the year you let nature inspire you to get outdoors and get involved. 



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About the Author

Nicole Cirino

Nicole Cirino works with REI’s Experience Team to bring local outdoor tours and classes to Austin’s REI Members and customers. You can see their full calendar of programs at rei.com/events. When she is not working, Nicole can be found biking around Austin, advocating for the outdoors and other causes she believes in, and exploring trails all around Texas.

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