By Tia Vierling
Colorado College students have reputations for living and breathing the outdoors. From kayak sessions in the pool to whitewater rafting around Colorado, or from climbing in Garden of the Gods to spending every winter weekend on the slopes, active engage- ment with nature is a common trait among many CC students. Underlying many of these activities, however, is a culture that is not inherently welcoming to students from low-in- come or minoritized backgrounds or those who have not grown up throwing themselves into hiking and biking.
It is not a purposefully malevolent aspect of CC culture, but one reflected throughout the United States in many outdoor settings. On a national scale, diversity in the outdoors is often overlooked or downplayed. People from minority groups are discouraged both implicitly and explicitly from activities in the outdoors. However, several organizations have formed with the goal of responding to the call to make the outdoors more accessible for all people.
Latino Outdoors is one organization that has been taking steps to connect Latino pop- ulations to outdoor experiences to which they might otherwise not easily gain access. The organization has a multifaceted purpose statement: they intend to not only create a deeper sense of connection to the land for their clients, but also leverage that connec- tion into greater interest and investment in Latino communities for conservation efforts. Their trips create a culture of support and, uniquely, promote “being bilingual as an affirmative identity.”
Out There Adventures also organizes trips meant specifically to create spaces geared toward identity exploration for queer youth that intersects with new experiences in the outdoors. By nurturing a “connection with the natural world,” Out There Adventures hopes its participants will gain an invaluable resilience as a result of their experience. Some organizations take a different approach, focusing more on increasing representation on social media with diverse engagement in the outdoors to diminish the intimida- tion that can come with a beginner’s attempts to camp or hike. @BrownPeopleCamping focuses on telling the stories of people of color in the natural world, both through Insta- gram images and through stories in adventurers’ own words. The organization encour- ages active participation in outdoor activities with calls to action in posts like “will you
help diversify our public lands?”
Another group, Unlikely Hikers, takes a similar approach by focusing on body positivity
in the outdoors and facilitating hiking groups to create spaces of complete acceptance for anyone wanting to get active. Centered on the West Coast, Unlikely Hikers also main- tains an Instagram page meant to celebrate every kind of hiker on the trail.
Organizations working in urban centers shouldn’t be forgotten in the discussion of building active inclusivity, despite the outsized visibility of certain spaces in which ac- tive lifestyle choices typically receive the spotlight. Alongside those groups focusing on rural areas, city-based organizations have an important role to play in creating a safe and welcoming active environment. Black Roses NYC, for instance, coordinates running groups on the streets of New York City specifically tailored to support Black health and create an accessible running space.
While much work remains in the effort to create a truly diverse outdoor culture, both at CC and in the U.S. as a whole, the strides of local and nationwide organizations are truly creating change, be it through physical organization or social media engagement. For the outdoor community, the change couldn’t come soon enough.