People love Durango. Locals and visitors alike. Whether it be the Narrow Gauge train, the numerous downtown shops or the plethora of award-winning restaurants and breweries, the list of reasons Durango is so amazing most definitely includes its breathtaking, mountainous beauty, crystal blue skies and the wondrous opportunities to be one with nature. Durango’s endless in-town trails and the hundreds of miles of wilderness sitting right outside one’s door definitely makes the cut, as does skiing, biking, fishing, climbing, running, and canyoneering. While the list of Durango desirables may vary from person to person, one commonality holds true. It is almost guaranteed that at the very top is community.
Durango’s community is definitely on Pine Needle Mountaineering’s love list and the downtown gear shop has no qualms in letting everyone know. The local outdoor recreation business started sharing its love of Durango when it opened in 1976 and it had the same intentions then as it has today: to equip lovers of the outdoors with products that enhance their experiences and to support the community.
Adventuring has always been enjoyable for Pine Needle’s current owners, Ashley Gonnella and Jeremy Dakan. Their family has grown since they bought the business seven years ago, but the duo is still full of passion for the shop’s mission; Pine Needle is actively involved in programs that give back to the community, specifically youth programs. Employees at the gear shop have involved themselves in such programs like the Be Frank Foundation, Durango Devo, Durango Nature Studies and area ski teams and schools in both Durango and Silverton to keep kids safe, healthy, and interested in everything that this town has to offer. Their special interest in youth isn’t only because the couple have two small children of their own, but also because they believe in the power of play—the kind that ends with in muddy hands, scratched knees, out-of-breath laughter, and maybe a band-aid here and there. They believe that the growing world of technology is taking the interest out of active play and therefore, taking our next generation’s attention away from the environment and the love of the outdoors.
“First and foremost, our biggest competitor is video games and that’s scary to me ... it’s a huge market, there’s a huge campaign behind it ... If those kids are spending all their money and all their time on the couch in the basement playing video games, then they’re not getting outside and they’re not gaining an appreciation for the environment so they’re not going to feel a need to protect it. It’s about keeping that next generation involved and outside and having a passion for the outdoors and enjoying being out there,” Jeremy shared.
With a 3½-year-old, a 16-month old, a 43-year-old business and juggling all of life’s responsibilities, the couple still finds a chunk of time here and there to go on family hikes or bike rides. Or, one will shoulder extra parental work so that the other can go childless on a bike ride and rip it on the trails. “We’re in the thick of [parenting],” Jeremy explained, “but I still try to get out and do some stuff. I’d say skiing is still my passion. I don’t kayak nearly as much but I’ve been mountain biking a lot more again.” When it comes to life balance, compromise and teamwork seem to be the key to successful parenting, running a business, and still enjoying outside play.
Jeremy continued, “It’s the ebbs and flows, and mixing up your passions and doing something different, finding a new spark ... it’s still there for sure. Every time I get outside it’s nice—it’s peace.” Pine Needle Dry Goods As of fall of 2018, Jeremy and Ashley became responsible for a new shop, too. Pine Needle Dry Goods is an extension of Pine Needle Mountaineering, located right across the street, just a stone’s throw away. It started out as an idea—to make more room for Patagonia products, boutique-like and gift products from locals or vendors who support good causes. The duo wanted to create a store that only carried products that truly support a forward-thinking movement. “It’s not just making a sleeping bag that is environmentally friendly … it’s about knowing that every product that the company sells is actually doing something. They are planting a tree or something else that is really specific to a cause, and you know what is happening,” Ashley said.
The new shop has an intimate atmosphere that reflects its products, and it provides space for events or early morning yoga. It’s a perfect complement to its parent store across the street. Contrary to the camping fuel, sleeping bags, ski boots, and tunes you can get at Pine Needle Mountaineering, Pine Needle Dry Goods offers exclusively Patagonia products and unique gems from nearby artisans. Doing so helps Ashley and Jeremy feel like they are supporting the environmental and social causes. They completely stand behind Patagonia’s progressive views and want their businesses to reflect that.
“The products we carry at Dry Goods are a little less convoluted with their statements of how what they do and sell is good for the world. You know when you give your girlfriend a pair of earrings some of the money is being used to help people recover from being rescued from sex trafficking or whatever it may be,” Ashley said. To be able to walk into a downtown Durango shop and know that whatever product you buy will be socially and environmentally responsible is a rewarding feeling and supporting a business that holds the same standards for the community is even more important. No matter which Pine Needle you walk into, you know you will be giving back to nonprofits, grassroots efforts, and youth organizations. And no matter which Pine Needle you end up in, you will experience friendly greetings, warm and welcoming smiles, and exceptional customer service.
The long-retained employees have a reputation of not only personally testing gear, but also saying hi to you, knowing your name when you run into them on the trails, asking about an epic weekend you just had in the desert and knowing the gear that would be perfect for your next trip. These are just a few more items to add to the Durango love list, and another reason to log off the computer, grab your favorite toy, and head outside to enjoy the land in a community we all have come to cherish and treasure.
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” - John Muir
Story written by: Jennaye Derge Photos Provided by: Jennaye Derge