It should no longer be a secret that the outdoor industry has a serious problem with representation. People of all ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations and abilities have always lived outdoors. The problem is how absent these people and their stories seem from the media’s portrayal of an “outside” American. Nature doesn’t discriminate, but the faulty systems and people who guard and monitor our public outdoor spaces do.
National parks were created as part of systemic racism, and it wasn’t until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that black Americans could even enjoy this land. The effects of discrimination in the open air are still visible today. The National Health Foundation has highlighted the fact that white Americans visit national forests and wildlife sanctuaries disproportionately more frequently than black Americans. If you’re interested in learning more about our country’s discriminatory history regarding public lands, the American Hiking Society has compiled a comprehensive list of resources on the subject.
It has taken a lot of work – mainly on behalf of grassroots communities – to start making outdoor recreation spaces an inclusive and welcoming place for all. But there is still a lot to do. Luckily, there are many different community-led outdoor organizations that have chosen to carry on the baton of progress. Some community leaders are leading newfound outdoor enthusiasts on their very first hikes through the Colorado mountains. Others create accessible trail guides to help people with disabilities manage their wilderness journeys.
These small but powerful organizations partner with influential outdoor brands to raise awareness and take real steps toward creating more inclusive outdoor communities. Together, these organizations provide platforms for a new wave of diverse outdoor enthusiasts and are changing public perceptions of what it means to be an American who loves the outdoors. Here are just ten of the many organizations doing their part to make nature fairer for all.
In 2017, Juju founded Milay Color the Trails to address the lack of equal representation for people of color in all facets of the outdoor industry. Color the Trails aims to help these underrepresented communities reclaim outdoor space. A core aspect of Color the Trails’ mission is to work with outdoor brands to achieve equal representation in the outdoor industry and media. The organization also hosts inclusive outdoor events and workshops for nature lovers, adventure seekers and anyone just looking for outdoor community. Although the organization is based in both the US and Canada, most outdoor events currently take place across the border. Color the Trails recognizes the greater economic barrier to outdoor activities for people of color by subsidizing the cost of these group activities.
Here’s how you can participate: Join Color the Trails as a BIPOC or as an ally. Participate in events, start your own chapter or become an affiliate.
Brown Folks Fishing is a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting inclusion among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) anglers in the US fishing industry. By addressing important issues like water conservation and social justice in the environment, they are helping people of color reconnect to their fishing roots and reconnect with the land. Brown Folks Fishing recently received a commitment from The Orvis Company, a major player in the outdoor industry, to take steps to make fishing more accessible to BIPOC. Through social media stories, scholarships for new anglers, The Awkward Angler Podcast and community-led educational events, they are changing the narrative of who belongs on the water.
Here’s how you can participate: Donate to Brown Folks Fishing, sign the Angling for All Pledge and join the inclusive fishing community near you.
Outdoor Afro is busy making waves in the outdoor industry, both literally and figuratively, with its child and caregiver-focused swim classes and its partnerships with major outdoor brands. Rue Mapp founded Outdoor Afro to help Black Americans reconnect with the country and discover leadership opportunities in the outdoor industry. This organization addresses the gaping representation gap within the outdoor recreation space by creating programs that empower the Black community. Their network of over 100 leaders in 56 cities across the country hosts outdoor group activities such as mountain biking, gardening, skiing and bird watching. Outdoor Afro also knows that protecting land and water is fundamental to bringing justice to Black Americans outdoors. Their leadership team works with federal, state, and local governments to inform policies that create a more equitable nature for all.
Unlikely Hikers is an outdoor community that welcomes all body types and is dedicated to fighting racism in the great outdoors. Through their nationwide hiking group, social media platforms and podcasts, they are making outdoor recreation more accessible to all and redefining what it means to be an outdoors person. Unlikely Hikers runs accessible hikes specifically geared to those with mobility issues, chronic pain, or those who simply want to experience nature at their own pace. Before each trek, guides discuss the importance of avoiding body-negative conversation and acknowledging the First Nations lands they are occupying.
Here’s how you can participate: Make a donation or shop at Unlikely Hikers’ affiliates to help start new chapters across the country.
LGBT+ Outdoors is a nonprofit organization that encourages members of the LGBTQ+ community to engage in outdoor recreation. They strive to “break down barriers and stereotypes in a traditionally heteronormative outdoor industry”. Their network of nature lovers across the US facilitates local group activities and events including ax throwing, archery, hiking and rock climbing. Not only are they nurturing a community of LGBTQ+ outdoor enthusiasts, but they also make it easy to find outdoor brands that support inclusivity in the great outdoors with a curated vendor directory.
Here’s how you can participate: Signing up for one of LGBT+ Outside’s many events, classes and camps is easy. Join a local chapter or become an ambassador yourself!
Aspen Camp is a non-profit organization that has been providing outdoor experiences for deaf and hard of hearing children and their families since 1967. Located in the mountains of Snowmass, Colorado, Aspen Camp has created a truly unique place for deaf youth and adults to participate in organized outdoor events. Their team of camp guides and leaders break down the significant communication barriers that typically make it difficult for the deaf or hard of hearing to attend organized outdoor events. In addition to many traditional outdoor camp activities, they offer mountain bike camps, snowshoe hikes, and family-oriented camps for parents with young children.
Here’s how you can participate: Sign up for a summer camp if you are a member of the deaf or hard of hearing community. Donate to Aspen Camp so they can continue to provide affordable outdoor camps for the deaf community.
Disabled Hikers is a non-profit organization founded on the belief that a disability shouldn’t prevent you from getting outside and enjoying the great outdoors. The Disability Walkers leadership team understands that living with a disability means you have to do a lot more preparation than able-bodied people before embarking on an adventure. They strive to lower some of these significant barriers to entry for disabled people looking to connect with nature. They provide in-depth hiking guides for popular US locations with detailed information on trail conditions, elevation gain, wheelchair accessibility, and many other important factors to consider before you set off. More than anything, they want people to know that there is no wrong way to be outdoors.
When Danielle Williams founded Melanin Base Camp in 2016, her plan was to increase outdoor participation among people of color. When she discovered that people of color were participating in outdoor activities, she shifted her focus to increasing these communities’ visibility in the outdoor industry. Melanin Base Camp has since become a vital resource for people unsure of where or how to go outdoors. On their website you will find outdoor guides, survival tips, freelancer guides and a blog with stories from athletes and environmentalists of color.
Here’s how you can participate: Follow Melanin Base Camp on their social media platforms, tell your own story on their blog, and donate to the organization.
Outdoor Asian is a diverse community of Asians and Pacific Islanders who participate in group outdoor events nationwide. Co-founders Christopher Chalaka and Kaiwen Lee have created a diverse community that allows people to connect with their ancestors across the country. The group events are not just limited to hiking. Some previous outdoor experiences include mushroom picking, bird watching, plant swapping, and snowshoeing.
Here’s how you can participate: Find your local branch of Outdoor Asian on Facebook and join an outdoor adventure. Visit the Outdoor Asian Blog for stories of triumphs and challenges in the wilderness.
Latino Outdoors celebrates meaningful and family engagement by the Latinx community with their communities. What started out as day trips within California has now expanded into a nationwide community of Latinx nature lovers. Some of the many free, community-led programs include camp trips, biking, and rock climbing adventures. Latino Outdoors not only helps people connect with nature, but takes it a step further by providing resources for the professional development of volunteers in the community. They have also developed storytelling and communication programs to extend the narrative of outdoor engagement to all ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations and abilities.
Here’s how you can participate: Attend a Latino outdoor community event near you, share your story on the Yo Cuento Blog, and volunteer to help maintain California hiking trails this summer.
Other organizations will follow:
Disabled & Outdoors
Black Outside, Inc
Green Youth Foundation
Soul Trak outdoors
Inclusive outdoor project
Good travel adventures
This article was featured in the InsideHook Newsletter. Join Now.