By Sam Killmeyer

It’s July, which means that many Coloradans are making the most of the warm weather and heading outside to camp, hike, canoe, swim, and just enjoy nature. But the outdoors aren’t accessible or comfortable to all Coloradoans. 

Colorado Blackpackers is a nonprofit fighting for economic equity and equal representation in outdoor recreation. In an interview with 9 News, Patricia Cameron, founder of Blackpackers, said, “What I’d notice, especially in Colorado, I’d go out to these parks or go camping, and I was the only person of color I see. I’d get super excited when I saw someone who was a person of color.” 

Between 88 and 95 percent of all visitors to public lands across the country are non-Hispanic whites, even though they make up only 63 percent of the U.S. population. As environmentalists, part of our job is to build a climate movement rooted in justice and that includes how we build community in recreational spaces. 

Here are a few ways we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable outdoors. 

Remove Economic Barriers To Entry

Fees are what keep our parks running — and they’re vital to their survival. But those same fees that protect our land are also part of what makes them less accessible. Why not waive the fee on certain days or provide free admission for first-time visitors? Doing so would lower the barrier of entry and allow people to experience the parks who may not have otherwise visited. 

Another way to make parks more accessible would be to provide low-cost transportation options. Cities could subsidize car-rentals, could provide weekend busing to parks, or find other creative solutions. We have so many beautiful parks here in Colorado, but not everyone has a vehicle to drive out to visit them.

One of my favorite ways to reduce the economic barrier to outdoor recreation is gear libraries. They make it easier for people to get outdoors, especially kids and families. It works just like a book library except that you’re borrowing backpacking packs or camp stoves instead of books. Many outdoor recreation stores allow people to rent gear, but a gear library is free and usually community-supported. 

Change The Role Of Park Rangers

Why do our park rangers dress like cops? They certainly don’t have to. We could follow the lead of the UK who decided in 2017 to outfit all of their rangers in Columbia Sportswear gear. They look more like a hiker than someone who is enforcing the law. Our park rangers, on the other hand, can carry a weapon and make arrests. Park rangers within our national parks receive police training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and they also take part in regular firearms training. It’s no wonder that people of color often feel uncomfortable when going to parks — the first person you see is the park police. Instead of someone there to welcome you into the wild, you’re met with a kind of militarized presence. 

What if instead of having police in our parks, our rangers could focus on the other roles they play like being educators, cultural interpreters, wildfire-spotters, and wilderness first aid responders? Just like we can reallocate funds within our communities away from police and towards social services, we can also change the role that our rangers play. 

Teach (And Learn) The Full History Of The Outdoors

The story we tell ourselves about parks is often that “we want to preserve the natural beauty of our land for future generations.’ But the story is more complicated than that. Our parks are built on land stolen from Indigenous people and Theodore Roosevelt certainly wasn’t creating national forests with African American guests in mind. For many Black people, the outdoors represent a history of lynchings, violence, and murder. 

We need to tell the full stories of our land, and also create parks and landmarks to people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. For example, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historic Park.   

How You Can Help:

Support Colorado Blackpackers – the nonprofit provides gear, outdoor excursions, and outdoor education for free or at subsidized costs as well as connects participants with volunteer and job opportunities. Visit their website and make a donation

Other groups you can support that are working towards equity in the outdoors:

Learn More

Here are some great resources if you’d like to learn more about equity outdoors:

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