Carbondale, CO

Carbondale opens Colorado's newest gear library

Morgan Tilton

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The storefront of the Roaring Fork Gear Library in Carbondale, Colorado.(Photo by Roaring Fork Gear Library)

The gap between Colorado’s outdoor opportunities and who can access them can be as insurmountable as a Class VI rapid or free soloing the Diamond face of Longs Peak.

To help provide backyard access across the Centennial State and beyond, another outdoor gear library recently opened doors in Carbondale. The storefront provides year-round equipment to community members and visitors at a very affordable price tag: a $30 annual membership fee.

Enter: the Roaring Fork Gear Library, which officially launched on May 1.

According to manager Kyle Watts, the equipment collection is becoming quite robust, following abundant gear donations.

“The gear we have was all donated. I was surprised. I could barely keep up with the inventory. We just got a storage unit in Rifle, a 45-minute one-way drive away, to drop off the skis and snowboards, so that I have more room in the store,” Watts said.

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The Roaring Fork Gear Library offers gear loans with a low-cost annual membership.(Photo by Roaring Fork Gear Library)

Roaring Fork Gear Library

The Roaring Fork Gear Library already offers a wide array of gear to loan. “The community has been really receptive,” said Watts, who grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The library offers skis, snowboards and snowshoes. It also has gear for water sports with tools like inner tubes, kayaks, and two- or three-person duckies. And it provides a dozen standup paddleboards (SUPs) and 15 bikes, including fat bikes for winter rides.

People can borrow camping gear for a week so that users can enjoy more than an overnight trip. Bigger gear items, like the bikes and SUPs, need to be returned after four days.

All of the equipment was donated to the shop, which is pursuing a nonprofit status.

“Almost everything is used and will not be in mint condition. Though, some people buy us new stuff and donate it. Some donations I have to fix up,” Watts said.

In addition to individuals donating items, local retailers have also offered or provided gear donations, too. That includes the gear rental shop owned by Aspen Skiing Company, Four Mountain Sports, and the REI Co-op Glenwood Springs, said Watts.

The Roaring Fork Gear Library has 160 members, most of whom live in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“Most of the people coming in are local and have family or friends visiting from out of town, because they don’t want to buy a bike to go on a day trip,” said Watts.

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L to R: Founder Olivia Lewis stands outside the Roaring Fork Gear Library with friend Sebastain Carmona and manager Kyle Watts.(Photo by Roaring Fork Gear Library)

Roaring Fork Gear Library: The backstory

The Roaring Fork Gear Library Founder Olivia Lewis moved to the valley from Virginia, where she grew up and graduated from the University of Virginia. Watts and Lewis met as co-workers on a farm in Basalt in summer 2021.

Both entrepreneurs share a passion for lowering access barriers by providing gear accessibility.

“Olivia said her college had a similar program, where people around the campus and community members could borrow the gear for free. She pitched the idea to me,” said Watts, who personally hit a wall when someone stole his snowboard.

In addition to owning the Roaring Fork Gear Library, Lewis works as an environmental field technician in Florida, where she recently relocated.

“We’re here to support the community and get people out. We live in such a beautiful place, it’d be a shame to not enjoy it, because of not owning equipment. It’s nice to help people. It’s been exciting,” said Watts.

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A range of outdoor equipment is available at the Roaring Fork Gear Library.(Photo by Roaring Fork Gear Library)

Colorado gear libraries: A new, growing trend

Albeit still novel, the concept of gear libraries isn’t entirely new in the Centennial State.

Typically, the rental fee is nominal or nonexistent, making the gear rental more affordable than traditional retail locations and certainly more accessible than purchasing gear to own.

Each gear library has a slightly different approach.

Leadville is home to the Community Gear Library, which opened in spring 2021. The membership-based gear collection is for Lake County residents. Owned and operated by Get Outdoors Leadville!, the organization helps expand outdoor access to community members of all backgrounds.

The Glenwood Springs Gear Library also debuted in spring 2021. The equipment rentals are low cost or free and available to all Colorado residents and visitors.

The rental options throughout the summer months include birdwatching binoculars, fly fishing and fishing rods and boxes, sleds, inflatable kayaks or standup paddleboards (including a paddle and personal flotation device or PFD), and snowshoes with gaiters plus trekking poles. Come winter, the gear will rotate. All of the rentals must be returned same day by 5 p.m.

The equipment library was a collaboration between the Glenwood Springs Parks & Recreation Department and the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (OREC) and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoor recreation trade associations. Headquartered in Denver, SmartWool and VF Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the brand’s parent company VF Corporation, also provided funds to purchase equipment.

Based in Littleton, the Always Choose Adventures nonprofit features a gear library accessible to annual members ($170 annual subscription). Each gear item is capped at a rental fee of $5 per day.

The My Outdoor Colorado (MOC) Gear Library is based in the Westwood neighborhood of Denver. Owned by Denver Parks and Recreation, the library offers gear for free.

Open to the public, The Gear Lending Library is a youth-run organization in Cortez. Also on the Western Slope, Delta County residents can check out snowshoes and poles free of charge from the Cedaredge Public Library gear library, using a Delta County Libraries library card.

Across the state, many higher education institutions likewise offer gear libraries for students and alumni, and some locations extend the rental programs to community members.

For instance, Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction offers a range of affordable equipment rentals for the community through the Outdoor Program, a student-fee-funded organization. In Gunnison, Western Colorado University allows community members to rent equipment via the Wilderness Pursuits campus gear rental closet with a driver’s license and credit card.

Alternatively, some gear rental programs are a dedicated resource for the host institutions. For instance, more than 1,000 pieces of gear for snow sports, camping, hiking, and water sports are available free of cost at the Outdoor Pursuits Gear Shop for the students and faculty of The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

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The Roaring Fork Gear Library loan options include fat bikes in addition to skis, snowboards, goggles, and winter apparel.(Photo by Roaring Fork Gear Library)

How to support the Roaring Fork Gear Library

Folks can support the Roaring Fork Gear Library through an annual membership or equipment donations.

If gear is too archaic—such as old cross-country skis that are only compatible with specific boots—or unsafe, like bikes with no brakes, the library won't accept it.

Due to space limitations, the gear library is not accepting skis now.

Patrons can also volunteer to help Watts organize, move, clean, or fix gear donations such as the bikes.

Recreationists can follow the Roaring Fork Gear Library Facebook page for event updates.

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

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