Statistics from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service show that although people of color make up nearly 40 percent of the total U.S. population, they make up less than 30% of the people visiting our national parks and national forests with African Americans the most under represented group. The Sierra Club has reported that less than half of African American adolescents age 13 to 17 will participate in even one outdoor recreation activity in any given year.
Several barriers have been discussed that may contribute to minority under-representation in the outdoors. Some of these Include:
Safety: Media stories of bear attacks, lighting strikes, and falls from cliffs can leave many people unfamiliar with the outdoors fearful for their own safety. This fear is compounded for minorities with incidences of racial violence and the idea of outdoor places being historically violent social spaces. (Racial Complexities of Outdoor Spaces: An Analysis of African American’s Lived Experiences in Outdoor Recreation by Matthew Charles Goodrid, 2018)
Affordability and Access: Visiting national parks can be expensive and distant. The cost of entrance fees, transportation, and equipment can be significant obstacles to lower-income families. Even our closer State Parks have entrance fees that can create a barrier.
Childhood Experiences: Many minority adults did not have the opportunity to attend summer camp or spend time outdoors as children. Several studies have shown that that early childhood experiences of engaging with the natural world can shape a person’s views of self-confidence and appreciation of nature well into adulthood. This becomes a chronic cycle of exclusion.
Feeling Acceptance: Ambreen Tariq started the Instagram account @BrownPeopleCamping to promote diversity in the outdoors. In an REI-Co Op journal she writes, “So, for many of us people of color, venturing into remote wilderness spaces to try something new or challenging, all while hauling the extra weight of being self-conscious or anxious as a minority in the outdoors, can make for a pretty uncomfortable experience. I would but no one out there looks like me.”
I recently read an article featuring a black female climber who speaks out about breaking the color barrier in the sport. How she wants to be a role model for young black girls and blogs and speaks to how people of color are under-represented in climbing. Yes, we need role models and we need to continue to have a conversation about the under representation of minorities in all outdoor spaces, but more importantly we need action. James 15-16 says Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? Of course, this chapter in the bible is talking about faith and deeds, but I think it applies here. What good is all of the talk if we DO nothing?
At Camptown we put our faith into action. For the past almost 30 years, we have been taking under-represented youth into nature. Since we have been keeping statistics in 2005, we have introduced over 21,000 minority youth to adventures like hiking, caving, camping, climbing, fishing, backpacking and canoeing. This represents 55% of our total youth served. I have always felt uncomfortable about keeping statistics on race because it just doesn’t matter if our youth are white, black, Hispanic or other. What matters is that they need to get out into the outdoors and experience God’s creation and know that they are loved and have value. To learn that there are opportunities out there that they have not even considered.
During this time of an ongoing pandemic, as well as growing political and racial divisions, we will continue to reach out to those least likely to get out into nature. Not because of any protest, appeal from a celebrity, or societal pressure, but because it is what we have been doing and it is the right thing to do. We envision a time when all people have equal access to all of what God’s creation has to offer without inhibition.