10 Community-Based Organizations Diversifying the Outdoor Industry
These groups are doing their part to make nature more equitable for all
By now, it should be no secret that the outdoor industry has a serious problem with representation. People of all ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations and abilities have always existed in outdoor spaces. The trouble is how absent these people and their stories seem to be from the media’s representation of an “outdoorsy” American. Nature doesn’t discriminate, but the flawed systems and humans that gatekeep and police our public outdoor spaces do.
National parks were founded under a framework of systemic racism, and it wasn’t until the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed that Black Americans could even enjoy these lands. The repercussions of discrimination outdoors can be seen to this day. The National Health Foundation has shed light on the fact that white Americans visit national forests and wildlife refuges at a disproportionally higher rate than Black Americans. If you would like to learn more about our country’s discriminatory history as they relate to public lands, the American Hiking Society has curated a comprehensive list of resources on the issue.
It has taken a great deal of work–largely on behalf of grassroots communities–to begin to make outdoor recreational spaces an inclusive and welcoming place for all. But there is still work to be done. Luckily, there are many diverse community-led outdoor organizations that have chosen to carry the baton of progress further. Some community leaders are guiding newfound nature enthusiasts on their very first hikes through the mountains of Colorado. Others are creating accessible hiking guides so that people with disabilities may have an easier time navigating their wilderness journeys.
These small yet powerful organizations are partnering with influential outdoor brands to build awareness and take real steps toward creating more inclusive outdoor communities. Collectively, these organizations are providing platforms for a new wave of diverse outdoor enthusiasts and restructuring the public’s perception 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 more equitable for all.
In 2017, Juju Milay established Colour the Trails to address the lack of equal representation for people of color in all facets of the outdoor industry. Colour the Trails aims to help those underrepresented communities reclaim space outdoors. A core facet of Colour the Trails’ mission is working 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 simply looking to find community outdoors. Although the organization is based in both the U.S. and Canada, most outdoor events currently take place across the border. Colour the Trails takes into account the greater economic barrier to outdoor activities for people of color by subsidizing the cost of these group activities.
How to get involved: Become a member of Colour the Trails as a BIPOC or as an ally. Join in on events, start your own chapter, or become a partner business.
Brown Folks Fishing is a grassroots organization aimed at promoting inclusivity among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) anglers in the U.S. fishing industry. By tackling important issues such as water conservation and environmental social justice, they are helping people of color reconnect with their fishing roots and reestablish a connection to the land. Brown Folks Fishing has recently garnered a pledge from The Orvis Company, a major player in the outdoor industry, to begin steps toward making fishing more accessible to BIPOC. Through social media stories, scholarships for new anglers, The Awkward Angler Podcast, and community-led educational events, they are shifting the narrative of who belongs on the water.
How to get involved: Donate to Brown Folks Fishing, sign the Angling for All Pledge, and join the inclusive community of anglers in your area.
Outdoor Afro is busy making waves in the outdoor industry, both literally and figuratively, with their child and caregiver-focused swimming classes and in their partnerships with major outdoor brands. Rue Mapp founded Outdoor Afro to help Black Americans reconnect to the land and discover leadership opportunities in the outdoor industry. This organization is addressing the gaping representation gap within the outdoor recreation realm by creating programs that uplift the Black community. Their network of over 100 leaders in 56 cities around the country hosts group outdoor activities such as mountain biking, gardening, skiing and birding. Outdoor Afro also knows that land and water conservation is fundamental to establishing equity outdoors for Black Americans. Their leadership team collaborates with federal, state, and local governments to inform policies that create a more equitable outdoors for all.
Unlikely Hikers is an outdoor community that is welcoming of all body types and dedicated to combating racism in the outdoors. Through their nationwide hiking group, social media platforms, and podcast, they are making outdoor recreation more accessible to all and redefining what it means to be an “outdoorsy” person. Unlikely Hikers hosts accessible hikes that are specifically geared toward people with mobility issues, chronic pain, or those who simply want to experience the outdoors at their own pace. Before each hike, the leaders discuss the importance of avoiding body-negative talk, as well as acknowledging the First Nations’ lands that they occupy.
How to get involved: Make a donation or shop with Unlikely Hikers’ partner businesses to support the formation of 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 outdoors industry.” Their network of nature lovers across the U.S. facilitates local group activities and events, including axe throwing, archery, hiking, and rock climbing. In addition to fostering a community of LGBTQ+ outdoor enthusiasts, they make it easy to find outdoor brands that support inclusivity in the outdoors with a curated vendor directory.
How to get involved: It’s easy to sign up for one of LGBT+ Outside’s many events, classes and camps. Join a local chapter or become an ambassador yourself!
Aspen Camp is a nonprofit 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 where Deaf youth and adults can participate in organized outdoor events. Their team of camp guides and leaders eliminates the significant communication barriers that usually make participating in organized outdoor events difficult for those who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. In addition to many traditional outdoor camp activities, they offer mountain biking camps, snowshoeing adventures, and family-focused camps for parents with young children.
How to get involved: 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 nonprofit organization founded on the belief that having a disability should not prevent one from getting outside and enjoying nature. The Disabled Hiker leadership team knows that living with a disability means having to make many more preparations than able-bodied people before venturing out on an adventure. They strive to alleviate some of those significant barriers to entry for disabled people who wish to connect with nature. They provide detailed hiking guides for popular spots across the U.S. with detailed information on trail conditions, elevation changes, wheelchair accessibility, and many other important factors to consider before heading out. 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. Once she discovered that people of color were participating in outdoor activities, she shifted her focus to increasing the visibility of these communities in the outdoor industry. Melanin Base Camp has since become an important resource for people who are uncertain of where or how to belong outdoors. On their website, you will find outdoor guides, survival tips, freelancer guides, and a blog featuring stories from athletes and environmentalists of color.
How to get involved: 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 engaging in group outdoor events across the country. Co-founders Christopher Chalaka and Kaiwen Lee created a diverse community that allows people to connect with their ancestry through the land. The group events are not limited to hiking. Some past outdoor experiences include mushroom foraging, birding, plant swaps, and snowshoeing.
How to get involved: Find your local chapter of Outdoor Asian on Facebook and join in on an outdoor adventure. Visit the Outdoor Asian blog to read stories about triumphs and challenges in the wilderness.
Latino Outdoors celebrates meaningful and family-based engagement among the Latinx community with their environment. What began as day trips within California has now spread to a nationwide community of Latinx nature-lovers. A few of their many free community-led programs include camp trips, bicycling, and climbing adventures. In addition to helping people connect with nature, Latino Outdoors goes a step further by providing professional development resources for community volunteers. They have also developed storytelling and communications programs to expand the narrative of outdoor engagement to include all ethnicities, body types, sexual orientations, and abilities.
How to get involved: Join a Latino Outdoor community event near you, share your story on the “Yo Cuento Blog,” and volunteer to help the organization maintain trails in California this summer.
Additional organizations to follow:
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