Initiatives to Diversify The Outdoors

The movement to diversify the outdoors has gained momentum within the past ten years as more and more organizations are fighting to create safe access for Black, Indigenous, and people of color in the outdoors. The work of these initiatives, and others, help redefine what the outdoors looks like and feels like in the United States, as many grapple with the historical discrimination and whitewashing within nature. These organizations prove that BIPOC communities want to engage in outdoor recreation and are doing so while simultaneously healing from exclusion and discrimination. A sense of community, accessibility and safety is at the core of all of these organizations, as it is recognized that these are common barriers to BIPOC participation in outdoor recreation.

Founded by José González, Latino Outdoors (LO) is a Facebook page turned nonprofit organization working to connect Latino familias and youth across the United States to the outdoors. Its mission is to incorporate cultura into the outdoors for Latino communities in order to foster a strong connection between nature and the diverse definitions of what it means to be Latino in the United States. Latino Outdoors is building a national network that values and advocates for the wealth of experiences that nature and recreation can provide to the over 57 million Latinos in the United States who come from diverse backgrounds” (Flores 50). Latino Outdoors has 180 volunteers organizing events in 14 different states, performing outreach to underrepresented communities, and running state and local Latino Outdoors Facebook groups. With over 45,000 Instagram followers, the organization has strategically used social media to connect with people about environmental activism and to create a space where followers can share personal stories about their relationship with nature. This storytelling aspect extends offline at Latino Outdoors events where time is dedicated for participants to share their stories in an intimate setting where varying definitions of what it means to be Latino are accepted and validated. These two initiatives, social media, and storytelling have allowed Latino Outdoors to reach communities across the country and begin the work of closing the gap between rural public lands and Latino communities in urban areas (Flores 47).

Gathering of 22 Latino Outdoors members posing with purple Latino Outdoors flag, overlooking landscape of cliffs covered in bright green grass
Photo Credit: Latino Outdoors.

Latino Outdoors programming aims at bringing more Latinos into historically white outdoor recreation activities, such as hiking, climbing, and kayaking. Pulling from the saying “This Land Is Our Land” from the National Parks Service, Latino Outdoors hosts events throughout various public lands, such as the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Muir Woods National Monument, and San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge. LO hosts a variety of events in both Spanish and English, and provides equipment for specific activities. In addition to events, Latino Outdoors offers mentoring for community members interested in conservation and environmentally-related careers. The organization structures its online presence strategically to ensure community engagement dictates the kinds of programming that are done. This encourages participants to progress their environmental awareness and proves that they have a right to take up space in the outdoors (Flores 61). 

Gathering of 22 Latino Outdoors members posing with purple Latino Outdoors flag, overlooking landscape of cliffs covered in bright green grass
Photo Credit: Latino Outdoors

Latino Outdoors is allowing Latinos to redefine what the outdoors looks like for them as both individuals and familias. The organization’s deliberate choice to include storytelling in various ways, through blogs, hashtags, and in-person conversations, has offered many Latino communities a chance to develop a sense of place and a feeling of belonging on public lands. These stories have created a sense of shared experiences while also emphasizing that there is not a one-size-fits-all narrative of what the outdoors looks like to Latinos. Just as there are differences in Latino identity, there are differences in Latinos in nature. Land use and necessity of space vary and Latino Outdoors is determined to make space for all experiences (Flores 61). 

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Founded by Luz Lituma and Adriana Garcia in 2018, Latinx Hikers inspires Latinx communities to feel empowered in nature, and use nature as a way of reconnecting back to their ancestral roots. Latinx Hikers’mission also focuses on making women of color feel safe in the outdoors, and comfortable enough to engage in outdoor recreation alone. This organization has hosted hikes and meetups across the country (Flowers).

17 Latinxhikers members posing for photo during a hike in Wyoming
Photo credit: Latinx Hikers.

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Outdoor Afro is a nonprofit organization with a mission to make the outdoors more accessible for Black communities, who have historically been made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in outdoor spaces. Founded by Rue Mapp in 2015, Outdoor Afro hosts events surrounding various outdoor recreational activities and is working to redefine what “outdoor recreation” means. Acknowledging the high populations of Black people in urban areas, Outdoor Afro emphasizes that nature exists in all types of communities and that outdoor recreation can be defined by much more than backpacking or skiing. Accessible activities, such as birdwatching or going for a walk downtown, is outdoor recreation, too (Flowers). Outdoor Afro offers opportunities for people to connect with nature and their community through hiking, camping, biking, swimming, fishing, and kayaking events.

11 Outdoor Afro hikers posing for a photo under a waterfall in Machine Falls, Tennessee
Photo Credit: Outdoor Afro
Outdoor Afro Logo of a human head with a tree drawn inside of it
Photo Credit: Outdoor Afro

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Outdoor Asian stemmed from the work of Outdoor Afro, showing the significance these organizations have on other underrepresented communities. Founded by Christopher Chalaka in 2016, the organization invites Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to engage in outdoor events as a form of connecting with nature (Flowers).

7 members of Outdoor Asian posing for a photo on a hike in the Cascade Mountains
Photo Credit: Outdoor Asian
Outdoor Asian Logo with sketch of sun over hills within a circle
Photo Credit: Outdoor Asian

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Jolie Varela founded Indigenous Women Hike in 2017 as a way for Indigenous women to reclaim their ancestral and stolen land throughout what is now known as the United States through hiking trips. In a historical form of protest against stolen land, the organization hosted a hike through Nüümü Poyo, named John Muir Trail by Westerners, without obtaining a park permit via the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (Flowers).

10 members of Indigenous Women Hike stand on a shoreline posing for a picture while holding fishing poles, dressed in fly fishing gear
Photo Credit: Indigenous Women Hike
Indigenous Women Hike logo of mountains in the center with green and yellow plants surrounding the mountain on either side
Photo Credit: Indigenous Women Hike

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Founded in 2017 by Evelynn Escobar, Hike Clerb is a Los Angeles-based organization empowering Black, Indigenous, and women of color to take up space in the outdoors. Hike Clerb offers group hikes and events for BIWOC, those who have experience in the outdoors, beginners, and those in between, to feel safe existing in nature. Hike Clerb’s mission includes healing in the outdoors from the generational trauma of colonization, discrimination, and racism. Through this healing of relationships between BIWOC and nature, a sense of community is fostered and inclusivity in the outdoors can start to be incorporated as an act of liberation and reclamation (Tyler). 

17 hikers posing for a photo underneath trees in Topanga State Park
Photo Credit: Hike Clerb

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Chris Kilgour, an alumnus of UW-Madison, created Color in the Outdoors (CITO) to provide space for underrepresented groups to feel welcomed and comfortable in the outdoors. CITO labels itself as an outdoor adventure organization and provides skill-building workshops, events, and of course treks outside for community members. Kilgour acknowledges that barriers to the outdoors can appear in various ways, most often stemming from historical oppression of underserved groups. As such, CITO helps break down these barriers in multiple ways, from providing gear for outings and opening up the conversation about who is welcomed in the outdoors (Provost). 

19 participants of a Color in the Outdoors event on the ice at Devils Lake State Park
Photo Credit: Color in the Outdoors

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The National Parks Service has recently put effort into diversifying participation of public lands through the enactment of various urban monuments and historical sites related to the history of BIPOC communities in this country (Root). This is a step in the right direction for engaging BIPOC communities who do not live in rural areas or have the resources to travel to hard to get to parks, such as Joshua Tree National Park and Yosemite National Park. As seen in various research, BIPOC want to, or already do, engage in similar outdoor recreation that is offered at traditional National Parks. The reason why their visitation rates are so low is mainly due to transportation and cost barriers, as well as concerns of safety or discrimination while in the parks (Chavez 76). By creating sites in areas that are more well known and accessible for underserved communities, the National Parks Service is beginning to reshape its agency to better serve and represent this country’s population. Having these historical sites listed under the National Park Service also helps to redefine what the outdoors looks like for people, in an attempt to change the narrative of needing to engage in extreme outdoor recreation in order to be considered “outdoorsy.” Nature exists in any setting, and often elements of community and family gathering, mental health, and leisure are within one’s definition of “outdoor recreation” so it is important for those spaces to reflect such interests. 

Front view of two buildings, one a redwood color and one grey, consisting of the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad visitor center
Photo Credit: “Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center” by NPS Photo/Beth Parnicza
Front view of the Young home facing U.S. 42, facing south/southeast
Photo Credit: “Youngsholm – Front” by NPS/Tom Engberg

Diversity in the Outdoors is a digital site created by Emma Schatz for CHICLA 520: Latinx Digital Publics, a course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 13 May 2022. CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Works Cited List can be found here.

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