Christmas came early for Missoula Parks and Recreation workers when they received roughly $14,000 in donated outdoor gear from Recreational Equipment Inc. on Monday.

“I don’t know where to begin,” outdoor recreation specialist Meg Rogosienski said.

She could barely contain her giddiness as she surveyed the gear waiting to be organized and stored Monday afternoon. Sixty pairs of snowshoes in various sizes; two-, four- and six-person tents; bear canisters; adjustable trekking poles; double-burner and backpacking stoves; sleeping bags, pads and liners; and backpacks were stacked neatly into piles in front of a city storage shed.

The gear, some of it brand new, came from REI’s Missoula store, which offered rentals until recently, said Shannon Dickerson, outdoor programs and outreach market coordinator.

Most of the rentals, though, were for area nonprofits, Dickerson said.

When REI decided to only offer rentals at some stores, remaining stores were given the option of what to do with their existing rental gear. It made sense to donate it to Parks and Rec, as well as more than $5,000 in gear to the Montana Conservation Corps, so that the community would continue to have access, she said.

Already, REI had relationships with the two programs and both were 2013 REI grant recipients, she added.

Access to the gear encourages people to get outside and enjoy activities, no matter what their age or ability, Dickerson said.

“It’s fun for families to get out and do,” she added.

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“It’s pretty phenomenal,” Rogosienski said.

Currently, most programs are held in the summer, but the gear will allow for programs throughout the year for kids, adults and seniors, she said.

The gear means families won’t have to come up with money to purchase expensive equipment for their kids to participate in activities that lower obesity percentages, decrease attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms and promote connectedness with the larger community, she said.

“It promotes lifelong fitness,” she added.

With the gear, Rogosienski hopes to launch more all-abilities and overnight outdoor recreation activities as well.

Without the donation, it would have taken years to amass enough gear to expand programming, she said. “It would have been a pair of snowshoes here, a pair of snowshoes there.”

The gear also will be used during events such as the Great American Family Campout, Unplug and Play, and Sunday Streets Missoula, and area organizations that have used REI’s rentals in the past can contact her for any future free rentals, Rogosienski said.

For more information on upcoming Parks and Rec programs, visit missoulaparks.org or pick up a summer recreation brochure at Currents Aquatics Center.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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