The increased demand for safe outdoor activities at the height of the pandemic led to a new kind of adventure for Rick Thomas, MES ’17, a Bren School alumnus. He founded BranchOut Parks, a series of scavenger-hunt-meets-escape-room adventures that take all the elements of traditional quest games — a compelling storyline, clues and puzzles — and move them outdoors to public park locations.
Each mission is as diverse as its environment, which includes locations in Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Seattle, Minneapolis and Washington D.C., with plans to expand to other cities across the country.
Instead of trying to escape, participants are presented with a different mission based on the history of the park. Discover a fossil, save a rare species, debunk an old legend, and more. Each adventure has both an environmental and historical bent. The goal, Thomas says, is to reacquaint people with their native areas and pass along some local lore as well.
At Loring Park in Minneapolis, for example, players find themselves caught between two long-time rivals and a mysterious wager about the park. The BranchOut adventure at Tregaron Conservancy in Washington, D.C. has players retracing the steps of local environmental heroes who rebuilt the park after years of neglect.
Thomas says he loves collaborating with parks to encourage people to explore the outdoors and have their own self-directed adventures. You can visit a local BranchOut Park, collect badges when you complete a quest, and even request that BranchOut come to a city near you to create a custom adventure.