Image: FindYourChesapeake

By: Warren Brown

What is your tradition for Thanksgiving? For many of us, it is gathering with family and friends, eating much more than we should and watching football games on TV. The following day, however, can bring startling, but not surprising news reports about literal stampedes of shoppers risking injury and even death to get a big discount on buying more things to give away in the coming holiday season.

In 2015, REI — the nation’s largest retail cooperative — took a bold initiative to change those traditions. REI decided to close not only its stores, but its call centers and distribution centers for Thanksgiving and the Friday after, giving two days of paid time off for its workforce of more than 15,000. The #OptOutside initiative encourages everyone to spend the day outside.

The day after a food-filled Thanksgiving provides an opportune time to enjoy the outdoors, work off that extra helping of mashed potatoes or pie and spend time with family, rather than stand in store lines all day. Even if the #OptOutside initiative was not motivated primarily by profits, it certainly generated a tremendous amount of free press coverage and attention in social media. It has helped draw attention to the benefits of outdoor recreation, created a model for the future of marketing that represents a shift in the relationship between business and consumers and focuses on valuing customers’ broader needs.

The movement has expanded well beyond REI. Many companies and organizations have joined the initiative to encourage people across the country to spend time outside. The movement has expanded not only in participants, but in scope. The core principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and justice (DEIJ) have been incorporated into #OptOutside, to ensure all people feel comfortable, safe and welcome to enjoy nature.

As we approach this Thanksgiving and the Friday after, consider spending time outside in our Chesapeake Bay region. Opportunities abound and resources such as Find Your Chesapeake can help you locate a place or activity that will be more memorable than another day of shopping. Even better, invite along some friends or neighbors who may be new to outdoor pursuits, or pass along informational resources to a school, community group or your faith organization. Share your adventures with friends via social media and join millions across the country who value experiences even more than a bargain on another gadget. Having beautiful natural areas and recreational opportunities that are accessible to all is one more reason to give thanks. #OptOutside.

Pondering how to #OptOutside this post-Thanksgiving Friday? Here are some ideas, most of which require no special skills or equipment:

Go for a walk: There are hundreds if not thousands of miles of hiking and walking trails throughout the Chesapeake Watershed. Some notable options include: the Appalachian Trail, which has many miles extending through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania; Blue Knob State Park in Pennsylvania offers 23 miles of trails and scenic views; Catoctin Mountain Park in Maryland offers 25 miles of trails with many scenic vistas; and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal runs along the Potomac River, offering glimpses of wildlife along the canal, spectacular views of the river and hiking trails off the path.

Head to the water: Yes, it may be chilly this time of year, but the waterfront is still a relaxing spot to enjoy (as long as you are dressed appropriately). With fewer beachgoers, it is the perfect time to look for shells and rocks brought in by the tide or pack a Thanksgiving leftover picnic to enjoy with the soothing sounds of the waves. If the ocean is too far, consider visiting the Bay, a lake or river. While access to waterways can be a bit challenging to find in some areas, more access is added each year and most state parks, national parks, wildlife refuges and many local, municipal or city parks have some calming water views. Some ideas: Assateague Island National Seashore; Concord Point Lighthouse; High Point Vista and Recreation Area; and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Tired of turkey? Take this opportunity to go fishing. Despite the cooling weather, the fish are still actively biting.

Check out the migrating birds: Pull out the binoculars and head to one of the many great birdwatching sites in the watershed. Most migratory birds are moving through the area between the beginning of September and the end of November, so now is a good time for potentially spotting some different birds. Lots of great birds are easily visible with just your eyes, and some parks offer a peek through optics at their visitor centers.

Explore: Opting outside does not necessarily mean you have to immerse yourself completely in nature with no signs of civilization. Instead, there are plenty of opportunities to explore historic towns and sites in the watershed. Notable sites/towns to visit include: Old Town Alexandria in Virginia; Williamsburg, Virginia; the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site in Pennsylvania; Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, MD; and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Have to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving? Consider participating in #OptOutside by catching a sunrise or sunset.

In-text Images:

  1. #OptOutside Logo via REI
  2. FindYourChesapeake Logo
  3. Signage, Appalachian Trail, Port Clinton, Schuylkill County. Nicholas_T Flickr
  4. Charles Harris fishing on the Anacostia River in Bladensburg, Maryland, 2012.
  5. Washington DC ornithologist Dan Rauch walks to a morning bird count on Kingman Island, Anacostia Park. Washington DC, 2012.

Don’t forget to send us your 2021 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.