If there is a silver lining by 2020, then more people are getting outside than ever before. But social distancing isn’t the only driving factor here: a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts are working to make the trails they love more inclusive, cleaner, and safer for everyone. Here are five change makers who are guiding this movement.
Evelynn Escobar Thomas
Founder, Hike Clerb
When Evelynn Escobar Thomas visited the Grand Canyon and Zion at the age of 23, her life changed. “These impressive landscapes have profoundly influenced me. I realized that I had been deprived of nature for so long, but I also realized that there weren’t many people out there who looked like me, ”says Escobar Thomas. “I thought, if we could share these landscapes with people of color, it could change the way they experience nature.”
Escobar Thomas founded Hike Clerb, a Los Angeles-based group that aims to create a safe space for women of color to experience the healing effects of nature. What started as a local monthly get-together has since branched out into larger trips. The group is now trying to tackle the nature deficit problem at the national level. “There are so many barriers to entry in the open air, from equipment to location to a person’s level of experience,” says Escobar Thomas. “I want to break down these barriers because nature is this unlimited resource for healing.”
Andrew King has climbed more than 50 major peaks around the world, but he was not born to mountaineering. “Where I grew up, kids only climbed fences,” says King of his childhood home in Detroit, where he lived until his grandparents adopted him at age 11 and moved to Hawaii. “Drive-by shoots, nothing but trouble – that was the first mountain I had to climb.”
In Hawaii, King began to see nature as his place to find peace. He started climbing mountains in his early twenties and has not stopped since. Now he wants to be the first African American to climb the seven peaks and the highest volcanoes on every continent. “This is my way of protest,” says King. “I know my life is important. I will let this fire light me. Hopefully people will see each other the way I grew up and a kid can see me climb those mountains and one day imagine themselves up there too. ”
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Founder, Native Womens Wilderness
As a child, Jaylyn Gough always explored the canyons and cliffs around her home in the Navajo Nation, New Mexico. She wanted to be an explorer growing up, someone who climbed Mount Everest, but thought that this type of exploration was only for whites because that was all she saw. Today she’s helping bridge that void with her nonprofit Native Womens Wilderness, a social media platform with 12 ambassadors sharing their adventure stories.
“A social media platform is currently making the most use of your voice,” says Gough. “I want to raise these women’s voices so that our little girls have this positive reinforcement that they exist and belong in the outdoor industry.” In addition, Gough is consulting with outdoor brands to increase the representation of Aboriginal people in advertising and educate non-Aboriginal people about the cultural significance of the land that many use for recreation. “Whose country are you exploring? That’s the first question non-locals have to ask, ”says Gough. “We want to tell the story and the story of the original landowners. Our connection to the land may be different for whites, but there is a real connection there that needs to be recognized. “
Founder, Soul Trak
Tyrhee Moore first learned about the power of nature through youth programs that took urban kids to wild destinations like Montana. But Montana is a long way from home in Washington DC, so Moore decided to explore the natural wonders closer to his community through Soul Trak, a nonprofit that introduces African American youth and adults to the trails and parks that surround their DC neighborhoods . “The goal is to involve the entire community, not just a specific age group, but actually develop a connection to nature within the culture,” says Moore.
Soul Trak offers adult programs that combine climbing and hiking in nearby national parks with brunch and mentoring programs for college-aged children (Moore is also developing a curriculum for elementary schools in DC). The biggest addition, however, could be Soul Trak’s Family Adventure Cohort: Parents, grandparents, and children from underserved neighborhoods in DC participate as families in a variety of outdoor activities year-round to learn key outdoor skills and environmental education. “Introducing African Americans to the great outdoors is important, but what that induction is like is important,” says Moore. “In the past, many white black children have taught canoeing. It is not difficult for anyone to digest such a situation. “
After seeing a receipt fly off his truck while on a road trip, Steven Reinhold decided to pick up 100 pieces of rubbish. It felt good to have a positive impact and he thought others might want to get involved. This is how the Instagram hashtag #trashtag was born. “I thought that concentrating on the garbage instead of the beautiful Instagram picture would make people aware of the overuse and abuse of our natural areas,” says Reinhold. “Could I make it cool to pick up trash? Could it be cool to post a picture of yourself protecting your public land? ”
The answer is yes. Trashtag has been blown up around the world. In 2019, 50 million hashtags were used, and trashtag groups are popping up around the world. “People have taken the trash tag and made it their own thing. I’ve always wanted that, ”says Reinhold. “We are so connected with everyone around the world now. And there are all these new people out there. How can we use this connectivity and social media to do something good? ”
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Main Photo: Courtsey: Evelynn Escobar Thomas
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