Parks across the country are telling Americans to choose nature over shopping on Black Friday

“All good things are wild and free.” Henry David Thoreau
“All good things are wild and free.” Henry David Thoreau
Image: Ephrat Livni
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A new movement has taken root in the US, and it’s growing fast, branching out across the country. Millions of nature lovers are opting not to shop on Black Friday and to instead spend time enjoying the great outdoors.

National and state parks, corporations, small businesses, and individuals—as of today (Nov. 23) 275 groups and over 3.5 million people in all—have pledged to participate in #OptOutside. The campaign emphasizing nature and play, started by outdoor retailer REI last year, was met with overwhelming enthusiasm, earning the company much tree credit with outdoorsy types.

Naturally, the National Parks Service and other nature-related agencies embraced the idea of reframing the day now devoted to shopping to one all about the outdoors. ”We realized we had the constituency and momentum to create a new tradition, one that is a natural fit with the great American holiday of Thanksgiving,” said Sam Hodder, head of California’s Save the Redwoods League, in a statement.

The passionate response to #OptOutside spread beyond US borders: The campaign won the Cannes Film Festival’s advertising Grand Prix, for sparking conversation about the buying fever that grips the US on Black Friday and turning an annual retail ritual on its head.

This year, Google, Subaru, and other corporations are all participating in #OptOutside, pledging action or services, and riding on REI’s weather-proof coattails. Subaru, for example, will be open on Black Friday but is providing fleets of vehicles offering rides out to nature so that pet owners and their animals (as well as shelter animals) can play in nature.

There are, of course, many reasons to choose the great outdoors over seasonal sales. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “nature never wears a mean appearance,” which cannot be said for shopping throngs. Also, spending time outside is scientifically proven to be good for physical and mental health. And after this particularly stressful election season, most Americans could use a soothing forest bath or a bracing swim.

Unlike the shopping mall, exploring the wild is also free (in many places) on Black Friday. National and state parks and others across the country are offering passes and reductions. In California, outdoor groups are promoting #GreenFriday. Texas is telling residents to take a hike, literally. “We guarantee this will be more fun than standing in line at the mall,” said Delaware State Parks representative Madison Watkins.

Joining the movement is easy, no matter where you may be on the Friday after Thanksgiving. There’s an #OptOutside search tool presenting local events, parks, trails, and nature organizations nationwide. But just going outdoors to enjoy nature is all it takes. And if anyone asks about your plans, tell them what the great naturalist, John Muir, said. “The mountains are calling and I must go.”