Enjoying the Outdoors in Your Own Authentic Way
Inspired by conversations taking place with the #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque hashtags online, Ambreen Tariq took to Instagram to share her thoughts and reflections as she explored the great outdoors. Thousands of followers and hundreds of stunning photos later, Ambreen is helping more people get outside to discover the wonder and joy of national parks. Recently, we snagged some of her time to find out what motivated her to start @BrownPeopleCamping and which national park memories rank among her favorite.
How did you come up with the idea for @BrownPeopleCamping?
At first, I was blogging a lot about the camping trips my husband and I took throughout the year. I chronicled different parks we visited, the histories of those public lands, and lessons we learned along the way as beginner-level car campers. But the reach of my blog was dismal and it felt as though I was just keeping a well-curated digital trail journal. I was yearning for a more interactive experience where I could connect with other like-minded folks who enjoyed the outdoors and felt passionate about making it more accessible for everyone. So, next, I turned to Instagram.
I started a glib but honest hashtag, #BrownPeopleCamping. I used it on my personal account to share photos of us setting up camp, cooking South Asian food in our camp kitchen, hiking, and other moments from our outdoor life. I used it to make a statement: yes, we are brown and we love camping. It’s not provocative; it’s a celebration. I hoped others would start using it too and join the fun, but even after two years of trying to promote it I was still the only person posting photos with that hashtag. So, inspired by the #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque campaign and all the great dialogues that were occurring around the National Park Service Centennial, I decided to join the conversation in a bold way by starting an Instagram account dedicated solely to sharing my outdoors experiences and thoughts on diversity.
I got out of bed in the middle of the night on August 3, 2016, and created @BrownPeopleCamping. I had no plan as to what my first post would be or where this project would go, but I had stories to tell and storytellers to meet, so off I went. It’s been more than seven months since I started this project and it has become something more beautiful and empowering than I ever imagined. Through this digital initiative, I have connected with hundreds of inspiring people who love the outdoors and care deeply about increasing the diversity of people enjoying our public lands. I have bonded with strangers over struggles neither of us would have assumed of the other. I have become friends with people whom I’ve never met. And all this simply by sharing a photo and telling a story.
Through the efforts of my project, I am inspired to be more honest about myself; to share with people more candidly how my experiences as a Muslim, South-Asian American immigrant female have shaped my love for the outdoors; to reflect more openly on the many privileges that enable me to enjoy the outdoors; and to promote more passionately for everyone to experience and enjoy the outdoors in their own authentic ways.
How do you find your park?
I distinctly remember the feeling I had when I first learned about the #FindYourPark campaign. It was May 2015 and my husband and I had arrived at Shenandoah National Park for my annual birthday camping trip. We went to pick up our camp permit and I saw for the first time a big, beautiful sign for the campaign. I was moved by how boldly it encouraged me to find and celebrate my own unique space in the outdoors. I felt an instant and personal connection to a campaign I knew nothing about. So when I caught some Wi-Fi, I looked up the campaign online and scrolled the pictures that were using the hashtag. It was such a welcoming message and suddenly I was connected to others who believed in it as well. The more I learned about the campaign the more I felt validated for the experiences I had and memories I kept silent about feeling discomfort with the lack of diversity in the outdoors community.
The #FindYourPark campaign validates me, and it validates the need to diversify our public lands.
Through the magic of social media, it has created a digital community of diverse individuals who share a passion for making the outdoors accessible for everyone. I feel so at home in this campaign and am proud to be a part of its efforts.
What are some of your special park experiences?
One of my fondest #FindYourPark memories is from when my husband and I visited Canyonlands National Park for our wedding anniversary in 2015. We saved up a small budget to take this trip. We rented equipment at a local outdoors gear store and did our first backcountry camp at the edge of a golden Utah canyon. It was one of the most profound and empowering experiences of my life. I never felt so privileged as when I woke up before dawn, unzipped my tent, and watched the sun rise in a straight line across the canyon. I say privileged because it took a certain amount of money, miles, and paid leave to get there and experience that moment. I was overwhelmed by how blessed I felt and how far I had come from being an immigrant girl with low self-esteem who camped with her parents in Minnesota for the first time.
It’s a dream of mine to visit all our national parks. Not because it’s the adventurous thing to do but because the National Park System is the crown jewel of this country and truly represents the American spirit of diversity and resilience. From the rainforests in Olympic National Park, to the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park, to the lush valley of Shenandoah National Park; these landscapes are as complex and vibrant as the identities of America’s people. And it would be a privilege for me to experience them all one day.
For me, our national parks are more than just land, they are a part of my identity as an American and the more I explore them, the more I learn about myself.
What’s a unique way that you express yourself in a park/connect with parks?
I love taking photos when I am in the outdoors. I find joy in sharing with others a glimpse of something beautiful I saw – not just the image itself but what it meant to me when I saw it, how it made me feel, and how special it was to find that perspective through hiking or camping. I feel strongly about the fact that it takes a certain amount of privilege for many of us to put life on hold and get outdoors, so I also share photos of my experiences in the outdoors to include those who couldn’t come along.
I believe in the power of visual storytelling. It’s a medium that translates across all cultures. A photo can move a stranger to relate to an experience they’ve never had simply by providing a glimpse into someone else’s perspective, and there is no stronger form of communication than that. I am passionate about harnessing the power of photography and storytelling to inspire others in my community to get outside and experience our park system in ways they never imagined for themselves.
If you had two sentences to entice somebody who’s never been to a national park to visit, what would you say?
There’s no wrong way to experience our national parks. Just get out there and enjoy the natural beauty of this country – you will be moved by what you see and you will be a better person for having seen it.
Ambreen Tariq is the founder of @BrownPeopleCamping, an Instagram blog aimed at promoting greater diversity in the outdoors community. She is also a board member and the Director of Communications for Green Muslims, an environmental non-profit organization based in Washington, DC. Ambreen works full-time for the federal government and lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband.