Native teams serving to enhance out of doors entry for Latino group

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SALT LAKE CITY – Community groups in Utah are joining forces to spread the message to members of the Latino community that there are ways to get more involved with nature, whether through recreation, conservation or other activities.

“We created a ‘Latino Taskforce’ to help our Conservation and Education departments identify some areas that we could improve, what types of educational projects are more relevant to our Latinx members, and how we can become more approachable and inviting,” said Frances Ngo, who works at Tracy Aviary as a conservation outreach biologist.

Tracy Aviary is working to create more inclusive classes and workshops for members of specific communities. Ngo believes that for some Latinos, transportation is a potential barrier, as is language. The Aviary has a second campus, the Jordan River Nature Center, which is located on the west side of Salt Lake City. Ngo hopes this will provide better location for some members of the community who live on this side of the Salt Lake Valley.

Other members of the Latino community in Utah believe that transportation may be a factor impeding movement of more Latinos into the outdoors.

“I love Utah, I love the scenery, I love the mountains, I love the people, people have been really nice to me personally, I love nature,” said Wendy Juarez, a local business owner and member of Artes de México de Utah . “Sometimes language can be a barrier people learn, I’m still learning.”

Wendy hopes more youth services will help bring more Latinos to the great outdoors. Recently, a group of students from the Kearns Sageland Collaborative and GreenLatinos helped work on a restoration project in the Oqurrih Mountains outside of Herriman.

“I go hiking, you know, we all should, it’s a lot of fun, it gives me a nice inner peace,” said Giovanni Rojas, who is a high school student and a member of Latinos in Action in Kearns. He and his classmates helped with the project of clearing the brush and building Beaver Dam Analogs in a creek.

“The thing is, sometimes we’re scared of what people think of us, we’re scared of being judged, we’re scared of being called about something that’s actually normal, you know,” Rojas said of the increase of Latinos involved in outdoor work and play. “I really hope this inspires other people, that’s my main goal.”

While transportation can be viewed as an obstacle, GreenLatinos’ Olivia Juarez helped gather resources to get the students out of Kearns and into the mountains. She also believes the “natural gap” comes into play in parts of Utah, despite being a state that has so many public lands.

“It’s really concerning why there aren’t opportunities for people of color, even low-income residents are really affected by an inability to benefit from nature on a daily basis,” said Juarez, referring to a study outlining the natural lacuna concerns in Utah.

As for a solution for more Latino access to nature, community groups have banded together to get more participation.