Building Access & Empowering Outdoor Leaders
This summer, five national organizations joined together to understand how cross-sector organizations can better collaborate to engage new and underrepresented communities in the enjoyment and stewardship of our national parks and the outdoors.
With the support of the National Park Foundation, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Groundwork USA, Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, and the Student Conservation Association launched Summit Seekers, an inter-generational outdoor leadership training program designed to foster inclusion and engagement of communities of color with traditional outdoor recreation.
Fifty-one Summit Seeker ambassadors participated in one of two cohorts, in either Washington, D.C. or East Bay, CA. The bi-coastal event series convened individuals with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives but who would, over the course of the summer, form a community.
One participant affirmed, “Who better to inform strategies for diversifying the environmental movement than the very people we are trying to engage?”
The inaugural events were held at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in D.C. and the John Muir National Historic Site in the East Bay, where ambassadors discussed perceptions about the relationships between different communities, particularly with regards to communities of color and the outdoors.
Weekend-long summits on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and in Muir Woods National Monument followed the initial meeting, during which the Summit Seekers hiked, camped, and brainstormed innovative solutions to increasing the access that communities of color have to public lands. These events helped to cultivate a real sense of community and connection among the participants in each cohort.
As an ambassador in the D.C. cohort, Darius Stanton, noted after spending the weekend with his fellow Summit Seekers, “I was honored to be ignited with a newfound appreciation for how the outdoors creates a new sense of community and zest.”
The cohorts concluded their leadership training at Anacostia Park and REI Berkeley, respectively.
These events brought together the ambassadors’ friends and families to celebrate the strength of the community and think through how the Summit Seekers and the five partner organizations can continue to work toward making national parks equitable and accessible to all Americans in the future.
Fundamental to the success of the Summit Seekers pilot programs was the dedication of each of the five partner organizations, and the strong sense of trust among each of the organizations’ leaders.
As Jamie Matyas, president and CEO of the Student Conservation Association, said, “The nature of building a constituency for the national parks starts with individual relationship building and the premise of trust. Trust is hard-earned and easily undermined, but change only happens at the pace of trust.”
Programs like Summit Seekers help us to put the promise of our common inheritance into action as we step into the second century of America’s national parks.
In their final reflections as Summit Seeker ambassadors, one participant recognized the lasting impact of being a part of this community.
“It was very special because it took people from all different walks of life together, but they shared one very important thread: many of them came from communities in America that have been excluded from enjoying the experience of parks and natural settings, and who have also been locked out of the economic benefits of conservation and natural preservation. I believe that bringing these people of different cultures and age generations together broke serious barriers and created networks that have the potential to last a lifetime.”