Outside Inclusion Coalition goals to make parks extra accessible for all

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People come to Pittsburgh for the three rivers, parks and outdoor recreation—part of what makes Pittsburgh one of the most livable cities in the country. But the Outdoor Inclusion Coalition wants the area’s recreational facilities to be more accessible, inclusive and useful for all.

Originally from Asheville, North Carolina, Marcus Shoffner grew up camping and spending time on the water. After moving to Pittsburgh and working for Venture Outdoors, Shoffner saw differences in park spaces and the ability of people of color to use them.

“From our regional parks like Frick, Schenley, Highland and Riverview to our local parks in Black and Brown neighborhoods like McKinley Park to the Hazelwood Greenway, there’s such a wide variation in how these parks are invested,” says Shoffner.

In the 100 most populous US cities, the majority of non-white neighborhoods have about 44% less parking space than the majority of white neighborhoods, according to a 2021 study trust for public land.

In 2019, Shoffner founded the Outdoor Inclusion Coalition to address inequalities in urban recreation.

“There’s such a gap in experience opportunities,” adds Shoffner. “Here in Pittsburgh, we have a lot of amenities, but there is little collaborative effort to activate an urban population in these spaces. The Coalition has the ability to use its collective voice to serve underrepresented populations – to create those spaces and to feel welcome in those spaces and to feel owned by those spaces.”

north park. Photo by Tyler Woodfill.

The Outdoor Inclusion Coalition has worked with recreation seekers, for-profit, not-for-profit and government agencies to advocate for greater participation in outdoor recreation. The coalition gathers community involvement and provides a space for people to voice their opinions on projects such as park master plans.

The Coalition has also created toolkits to help other organizations understand the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion support systems during recruitment, onboarding and beyond.

Shoffner has served as Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the past two years Dare to be outdoors. Hosted by Venture Outdoors since 2021, the Outdoor Inclusion Coalition will now become its own organization under a new fiscal sponsor – New sun rises. Based in Millvale, the organization supports nonprofits, social enterprises, collaborations and philanthropic partners in building a fairer and more inclusive society.

“Marcus has been a passionate and valuable partner during his time with us, and we are honored to work with him and lead the Outdoor Inclusion Coalition,” said Valerie Beichner, President and CEO of Venture Outdoors. “This transition is an inevitability that we planned for from the start and know that the Outdoor Inclusion Coalition will only grow exponentially in the years to come.”

The Outdoor Inclusion Coalition is also working to improve accessibility to and within parks, including accessible transportation to parks, park amenities such as sidewalks and trails that are accessible to all people, and multilingual park signage.

While promoting inclusion is important, the coalition also wants to address incidents where people in outdoor recreation areas have been attacked or verbally abused because of their identity. To that end, the Coalition created the Inclusionary Incident Report to track, report and even mediate incidents.

Shoffner says that becoming a 501(c)(3) organization will help the Coalition create more collaborative programs between existing and future partners.

“We now have a space to bring all of these industries together and work together,” says Shoffner. “There will always be a space to make not just Pittsburgh but the state of Pennsylvania more equitable when it comes to recreation.”

This story is part of a new series for NEXTpittsburgh focused on outdoor recreation within approximately a three hour drive from Pittsburgh.

Diversity Equity and Inclusion Outdoor GuidePittsburgh Parks

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