By Outdoor Magazine

When the Portland Streetcar announced last year it would no longer offer free ride tickets to area schoolchildren, local resident Deek Heykamp, co-owner of Next Adventure, a Grassroots Outdoor Alliance retailer, was ready to find a solution and decided it would pick up the kids’ fare.

Effective from the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, the Portland outdoor specialty retailer is covering the cost of Portland Streetcar fares for all Portland public school children on school-sponsored trips for five years.

Portland Streetcar’s history began in 1990. After a decade of planning and construction, the streetcar began offering passenger service in 2001 and today runs on a 16-mile system made up of three lines, with 77 total designated stops.

Initially, as part of Portland Streetcar’s fundraising strategy, the organization approached Next Adventure, offering a sponsorship package that included adopting one of the streetcar’s stops; specifically the stop just in front of the outdoor retailer’s flagship location on SE Grand Avenue.

“I am committed to supporting the streetcar because I think it is a great thing for the city,” Heykamp, who serves as a member of the Portland Streetcar steering committee, said. “But I found out they were no longer sponsoring trips for school kids. For me, that was a problem.”

Immediately, Heykamp went to work with the Streetcar’s staff to formulate a solution. “I wanted to find a way to build a sponsorship that would accommodate exposure for our store and the goal of getting kids on the streetcar,” he said.

While the total five-year cost to Next Adventure was difficult to predict, Portland Streetcar staff provided the retailer with figures to go on.

“The year before we started the program there were approximately 2500 students that used the streetcar for school-related trips at a cost of $3500 to $4000,” Heykamp said.

Schools find taking advantage of Next Adventure’s sponsorship is easy.

“Schools go online and fill out a form, so the streetcar can plan for the ridership. Then, they receive passes that allow the students (and their teachers/chaperones) to ride for free,” he said.

Thus far, the numbers indicate area schoolchildren are benefiting.

“As of February we have already reached the total number of students who rode in the previous year and that number is growing,” Heykamp said.

“My goal is to triple or quadruple the number of school kids that use the streetcar. I would love to see us reach 10,000 riders in the next five years.”

According to Heykamp, providing area children with streetcar access is a win-win-win for the kids, for Next Adventure, and for the streetcar itself.

For the Next Adventure team, the Portland Streetcar is a cause close to the heart.

“To me it’s just a feel-good great deal,” Heykamp said. “Providing free rides to schoolchildren also falls in line with all of the values of Next Adventure, such as getting youth out and into the community.

“It also falls in line with our belief in using public transportation and with our desire to keep our city livable and strong. We get so much benefit from living, working, and doing business in a city like Portland.

“We know that we have a responsibility to give back. Because this initiative fits with all our values, this is a wonderful way to do that.”

As a part of the sponsorship package, Next Adventure receives exposure via Portland Streetcar’s website and other materials where the retailer is listed as a sponsor. Next Adventure benefits from signage at a stop where it is designated as the stop sponsor.

Interestingly, instead of opting for the stop adjacent to the storefront as originally proposed by Portland Streetcar, Next Adventure chose another stop at SW 10th and Taylor, on the other side of the city.

“My marketing department decided to choose a stop in another part of the city in order to inform people they can take the streetcar from SW Portland (where the stop is) and ride to NE Portland to get to our store,” he said.

In addition to benefitting the children and to providing advertising perks to Next Adventure as sponsor, Heykamp believes the free-fares-for-kids initiative makes good sense for the streetcar.

Founded in 1997, Next Adventure, a Grassroots Outdoor Alliance retail member, has three locations in the Portland area and is one of the largest area brick-and-mortar locations for all of the top outdoor brands. Portland Streetcar is just one of many local causes Next Adventure supports.

“We support everything from fishing activists to people in the mountains saving lives,” said Heykamp. “We take our community partnerships very seriously and are pretty generous with our donations.”

Next Adventure’s list of community partners includes Oregon Ocean Paddling Society, Columbia Pacific Food Bank, Heros on the Water, Mt. Hood Search and Rescue, and the Boy Scouts, among others.

All of Next Adventure’s community partnerships are important, and for Heykamp, the partnership with Portland Streetcar is unique in that it is an example of private and public sectors coming together to solve a problem.

“I think it is a pretty good story of the private sector and public sector talking through a problem and coming up with a positive solution,” Heykamp said.

“Sometimes as retailers or business people, we don’t feel we can make a difference with city hall or government agencies or within the public sector.

“I’m very pleased in this situation we were able to make a difference. We did take the risk of sitting down and voicing clear concerns and it has turned into something really great.

“And, heck, if in the process we turn these kids into streetcar users, who knows what the future looks like.”