Meet The Organizations Making Space For Everyone In The Great Outdoors

They’re building a more inclusive world, one trail at a time.

by Becca Strassberg

Five years ago, if someone were to ask me to go on a hike, my answer — my instinctual, gut reaction — would be a hard no. I would react so quickly and with such gusto that whatever well-meaning friend had inquired would know not to pose the question ever again.

For most of my life, I’ve just never been the outdoors-y type. When I was a kid at summer camp, I never felt at ease swimming in the lake. Once I grew into adulthood, I knew agreeing to a camping trip meant having to hide my anxiety about encountering wild animals or navigating a precarious bathroom situation. So I simply said no, embarrassed to not appreciate something that many regard as one of life’s simple pleasures.

In recent years, I’ve come to enjoy my time spent in nature. Through some trial and error, and a realization that not all outdoor adventures are created equal, I started to figure out what aspects of getting outside that I do like — and that’s all it took for me to start feeling like I belonged. My anxieties still pop up now and then, but I’ve discovered the trail that works for me, which looks a lot less like weeklong camping trips and a lot more like misty walks in the woods and bike rides in the summer sun. Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that my outdoor journey — from dislikes and neuroses to finding my niche — was only possible because, as someone who lived close to nature and didn’t lack resources, I had ample opportunities to try.

For Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities, the margin of opportunity can be slim and the fear of putting yourself out there — both figuratively and literally — can be great. And it’s easy to see why: According to data gathered by North Carolina State’s College of Natural Resources, “research shows that people of color are far less likely to engage in nature-based outdoor recreation activities, with historic discrimination being a large underlying factor.”

This disparity is far from acceptable. The great outdoors is made up of trails that everyone should feel welcome to traverse — safely, confidently, and together. To that end, Bustle teamed up with The North Face to celebrate the stories of BIPOC-led organizations that the Explore Fund has partnered with. We spoke to three community-building groups about how they’re giving everyone the chance to discover the trails that they truly enjoy. Keep reading to learn about what each group stands for, and then press play to dive deeper into how they’re making a difference, one trail at a time.

Hike Clerb

What’s a “clerb” exactly? According to Evelynn Escobar, it's just a culturally expressive way to say “club.” But her Los Angeles-based nonprofit, Hike Clerb, is so much more than a fun-to-say name. Motivated by Escobar’s personal experiences of “feeling isolation and wanting to bring more people to national parks so I’m not the only Black or brown person I see,” Hike Clerb was formed in 2017 and has since become a place where hundreds gather to reach new heights.

Escobar believes everyone is entitled to nature’s healing properties — and her goal is to help women of color feel comfortable enough to experience them via monthly group hikes and the Find Your Park program, which gives away annual park passes. And don’t worry, there’s no need to show a certain skill level or pass any sort of test to join. “Everyone is welcome,” Escobar tells Bustle, “you just have to be down with the mission.”

Learn more below.

Latino Outdoors

When you think of exploring nature — an ever-present resource that should be accessible to all — you may not realize how many people don’t have the financial means or physical opportunity to interact with it. Many parks are free, sure, but what if the closest one is two hours from where you live and you don’t have access to a car or public transportation?

Founded by José González, Latino Outdoors is not only aware of these disparities, but is actively working to make them a thing of the past. The nonprofit was created to inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in outdoor adventures, ensuring their heritage and history is equally represented. The group leads free outdoor excursions (like canoeing, climbing, and biking) so Latino families and individuals can have a safe, inclusive, and welcoming space within the natural world. And with ambassadors and outings leaders all over the country, their reach is growing fast. As leader Jessica Godinez says, “Latinos are out here, we’ve been out here, we’re going to continue to be out here, taking up space together outdoors.”

Learn more below.

Brown Folks Fishing

Fishing has long been a crucial aspect of many cultures around the world, and watching Brown Folks Fishing ambassador Autumn Harry speak about the Indigenous Paiute people’s respect for the water is an important reminder of the organization’s roots. “I didn’t grow up seeing other native people fly fishing,” Harry tells Bustle. “Being a tribal member and growing up [on this land], I deserve to be in those spaces.”

Brown Folks Fishing does more than cultivate a community for BIPOC fly fishers; it educates and reminds the world that no single group’s relationship with nature is superior. Through storytelling, guided events, and an accessible gear library, the group lets people of color explore their own connection with land, water, and community. And via its Angling For All pledge, anyone can embark on a curriculum that facilitates change in the fishing industry, vowing to address racism and inequality until a meaningful difference is made.

Learn more below.

There’s no doubt that these organizations are actively fighting historic discrimination and increasing access, but it’s up to all of us to do our part in changing the the outdoor industry for the better. Together, we have the ability to ensure all people feel like they belong and no one has to miss out on experiencing the benefits that nature provides.

Click here to learn more about The Explore Fund and the organizations they support.