Calling all families of color! It’s time to get out and explore the outdoors. The Pacific Northwest is full of amazing natural wonders. Families in our area are lucky to be able to experience three national parks in Washington state, as well as over 140 terrific state parks.
Yet people of color are often underrepresented in the outdoors. Although the U.S. Census estimates roughly 39 percent of the population are people of color, a 2017 Outdoor Recreation Participation survey conducted by the Outdoor Foundation shows only 25 percent of participants in outdoor recreation are people of color.
Similarly, only 28 percent of campers in the United States are people of color, according to a 2018 North American Camping Report, sponsored by Kampgrounds of America.
Upcoming Refuge Outdoor Festival
Here in the Seattle area — and nationwide — groups such as Outdoor Afro, Outdoor Asian and Latino Outdoors actively work to encourage people of color to experience the outdoors. These groups organize hikes, campouts and outdoor trainings throughout the year.
Designed for people of color, this all-ages festival brings together participants to enjoy music, activities and discussions about representation in the outdoors. All people of color and allies are welcome.
“The festival is really centered around creating an inclusive space for groups that have traditionally been marginalized in the outdoor community,” says festival organizer Chevon Powell.
Refuge tickets are still available for the Refuge Outdoor Festival. A weekend pass costs $95 per adult or $45 per youth and includes field space for camping. Bring your own gear. (Scholarships may be available.) Upgraded camping options are also available: car-camping spots, camper-van spots o RV spots for $125–$150.
For families of color looking for more outdoor options, here are a few more programs that they can get involved with this fall and all year round.
WILD Youth Program
Created in 1997, the WILD Youth Program partners with Asian-Pacific Islander youth through cooking classes, outdoor leadership development training, gardening classes and intergenerational activities within the Asian-Pacific Islander community.
“A lot of youth may not have the opportunities to really embrace the outdoors,” says WILD program manager Vincent Kwan. “With our program, we try our best to diversify the community within the outdoors.”
Cascade Bicycle Club's Major Taylor Project
An initiative of the Cascade Bicycle Club, the Major Taylor Project encourages youth from underrepresented communities in 18 middle schools and high schools across south Seattle to explore the Pacific Northwest.
“The great part about the project is that we get to take the kids to places they haven’t been to by bike or even [been] in general,” says Major Taylor project manager, Richard Brown.
The Major Taylor Project reaches youth through bicycles clubs, organized bike rides and their Build-a-Bike program.
Bike Works Youth Programs
Another organization that encourages bicycling among youth of color is Seattle-based Bike Works. Program director for Bike Works' youth programs Tina Bechler understands the importance of exposing youth of color to the outdoors.
“There are a lot of really amazing places to get to by bicycle,” Bechler says. “I think it’s a huge opportunity for young people to see that in half-an-hour, they can go somewhere really beautiful that’s surrounded by nature.”
Bike Works trains youth to repair bikes. They also organize bike clubs for girls, endurance riding clubs and mountain biking clubs throughout the year, as well as bike touring camps in the summer.
Climbers of Color
In thinking about ways to diversify the outdoors, it’s important to also look at the leadership within the outdoor community. Climbers of Color organizes mountaineering leadership workshops throughout the year that are aimed at people of color.
Team members Max Lam and Nicco Minutoli emphasize that the group’s main aim is to train leaders in the outdoors through their workshops.
“We’re focused on giving people the tools to run their own outdoor camps and activities,” Minutoli explains.
For older youth with a deep interest in mountaineering and the skills necessary to take on a leadership role, Climbers of Color workshops can pave the way to that path.