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Black People Who Hike in Acadia National Park
Amanda P. Carusoe / Amanda Prouty Photography for the National Park Foundation
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NPF’s ParkVentures Program Awards $2.2 Million to Affinity Groups

By Karen Cumberland

To further the National Park Foundation’s (NPF) commitment to ensure that all people can fully experience the benefits of the outdoors and build lifelong relationships with national parks, NPF's program ParkVentures will increase its investment in equity-focused outdoor projects this year.

From some of the most-visited national parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gateway National Recreation Area, to the secluded tropical paradise at the National Park of American Samoa, the 63 projects selected for funding this year span 59 parks and focus on representation, accessibility, and interpretation – all things that leaders in outdoor recreation and equity spaces identify as barriers for communities that have been historically excluded from parks.

"The value of national parks extends beyond the preservation of landscapes and historic sites – they can also be an outlet to sustain our mental and physical health, space to connect with our loved ones and communities, and environments that inspire care for our planet,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, NPF’s Chief Program Officer. “But for those who have been historically excluded from parks and outdoor recreation, that doesn’t resonate. By supporting local leaders and community-based organizations, our goal is to give more people a chance to feel connected to parks.”

Kayaking at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens through WELLderness - an outdoor wellness series by Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens that aims to connect people to nature through various activities that promote mental/physical health. (Rich Woods for the National Park Foundation)

Community Building and Representation

Offering joy-filled, meaningful experiences in parks for people and communities who have been historically excluded from these spaces can be an important first step in building a lifelong relationship with parks and the outdoors. When people can see themselves represented in these spaces, they’re much more likely to feel welcome and to come back – and in turn, help protect parks for the future.

"We must support our youth to see themselves as park rangers, managers, and superintendents within the National Park Service because it is people with significant connections to these lands that will do their absolute best to protect them,” said Tahlia Natachu, Executive Director of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project. “We appreciate Grand Canyon National Park for respectfully working with us and understanding that our projects with them are not typical tourist visits; these are significant identity and leadership development experiences. We hope that these are the first steps in upholding a reciprocal relationship between the park and Indigenous communities so we can preserve the sacredness of these spaces.”

With a ParkVentures grant, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project will facilitate trips to culturally significant sites – including the Grand Canyon – to explore our history, art forms, and agricultural practices and learn about contemporary ways the National Park Service is preserving Zuni heritage. Their ultimate mission is to promote resilience among Zuni youth, so they will grow into strong and healthy adults that are connected to Zuni culture.

Additional projects focused on community building and representation will take place at:

  • Acadia National Park | The Wabanaki Cultural Foods Access Summit, hosted by the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation, will bring together leaders of Wabanaki food and land projects, tribal youth, and Wabanaki families to share successes in food access, and allow Wabanaki families to reengage with culturally significant places within Acadia to support healing and community building.
  • Arches & Canyonlands National Parks | Working with local organizations, the parks will connect Latinx youth to public lands and provide a professional pathway into public land management by offering meaningful, paid internships that link culture, language, and conservation. The larger community will receive the benefits of culturally relevant, multilingual educational programming.
  • Big Bend National Park | Black Outside Inc. will host trips with Brothers with the Land, an outdoor leadership development program for Black and African American boys; the Charles Roundtree Bloom Project, an outdoor healing justice program for youth impacted by incarceration; and Boyz N Da Wood, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting Black men to healing spaces in nature.
Latino Outdoors Boston's trip to Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (NPF Photo / Marlon Orozco)
  • Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park | Boston high school students will be invited to participate in the Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center's Green Ambassadors program: a six-week outdoor learning and youth employment opportunity including Outward Bound challenges and expeditions to develop leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.
  • Cabrillo National Monument | Female-identifying youth will participate in ongoing outdoor learning and mentorship opportunities, community engagement and career development, and an immersive environmental stewardship apprenticeship with the EcoLogik Leadership Academy.
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park | The Student Conservation Association will connect urban youth to the wonders of the park during a three-day end-of-season program, where members will hike, bike, and camp along the C&O Canal Towpath, learning from National Park Service staff about the natural and historical assets in the region and empowering them to explore and appreciate their own backyard.
  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area | The Camping to Connect program by the Young Masterminds Initiative provides urban youth with mentorship and outdoor adventures, fostering leadership, brotherhood, and inclusion while empowering young men – specifically those who identify as people of color – to transcend stereotypes and realize their full potential.
  • Denali National Park | Working in partnership with the Denali Education Center, the park will offer backcountry adventures and field camp programs for underserved youth and young adults across Alaska to learn about the park, bond with their peers, and experience the mental and physical benefits of the outdoors.
Denali Education Center Fostering Curiosity Beyond Barriers (Denali Education Center)
  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine | A partnership with the Living Classrooms Foundation will bolster the park’s largest annual event, Defenders’ Day, by expanding its programming to better represent and appeal to the diversity of Baltimore and strengthen community ties to the park.
  • Grand Portage National Monument | The National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation is offering a camp program for indigenous youth from local Anishinaabe tribes to build relationships and gain confidence as they explore Grand Portage National Monument and Isle Royale National Park – one of the most remote national parks, accessible only by boat or seaplane.
  • Grand Teton National Park | Coombs Outdoors aims to dismantle barriers to outdoor recreation culture for local families – especially Spanish-speaking, immigrant families – by providing year-round, multi-generational programs that foster a sense of belonging, community connection, and confidence through adventure.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park | As one stop of their National Park Tour, Black People Who Hike will host 2-3 days of adventurous and restorative activities, aimed at engaging the local black community and creating a safe, welcoming space where people can build community and create everlasting relationships with the outdoors.
  • Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park | Working in partnership with Kupu, the park will offer comprehensive youth programming for students from local rural, under-represented communities and inspire them to explore natural resources careers, take an active role in their community, participate in hands-on learning in nature, and engage in Hawaiian cultural practices that promote social-emotional health.
  • Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park - Seattle Unit, Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Olympic National Park | Outdoor Asian will work alongside the Seattle Parks Foundation to expand its programming – including guided snowshoe walks, park cleanups, community science programs, and beginner backpacking and camping trips – to build relationships across Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) cultures, with other communities of color, and with the natural world.
  • Mississippi National River and Recreation Area | Mississippi Park Connection will boost support for its affinity groups, allowing them to increase their capacity and connect more people from historically underrepresented communities – including people of color, veterans, people living with physical disabilities, and LGTBQ+ individuals – with the opportunities to recreate and explore their public lands.
  • National Park of American Samoa | Hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of American Samoa, Expedition NPSA will connect high school-aged students with National Park Service staff to shadow, learn about employment opportunities and career paths, and make connections. At the month's end, participants will also have a chance to apply for a stipend volunteer position to gain more experience.
  • Olympic National Park | The Washington Trails Association will host a volunteer trip for female-identifying young people, ages 14-18, where participants will develop their leadership skills and find space in an inclusive community of environmental stewards and outdoor champions as they work, hike, and camp in a beautiful national park.
  • Point Reyes National Seashore | Led by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association and working closely with over 20 nonprofit organizations, Youth in Parks (YIP) fosters accessibility and community engagement, offering repeat outdoor recreation and science experiences to build environmental literacy and strengthen connections between participants and the natural world.
  • Rock Creek Park | With their second ParkVentures grant, Pride Outside will build on their Nurture & Nature program with eight additional community workshops and hikes at Rock Creek Park for members of the local LBGTQ+ community to celebrate queer joy; increase physical, mental, and social health; and cultivate connections.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park | Environmental Learning for Kids – a Denver-based nonprofit – will give underrepresented Denver youth opportunities for educational and professional development, enabling them to serve as community ambassadors and educators through their Urban Ranger Program. Also at Rocky Mountain National Park, Santo Domingo Pueblo's “Learning Through Nature” program will host monthly activities for youth and tribal leaders to gain hands-on outdoor learning experiences and build relationships, culminating in an extended overnight trip.
  • Saguaro National Park | Park leadership and partners at Friends of Saguaro National Park, Inc. hope to engage historically excluded communities – low-income, Latinx, Indigenous, and disabled youth – through outdoor recreation and community events that will build a lasting and genuine relationship.
  • San Juan Island National Historical Park | To inspire stewardship, On Sacred Ground will bring underrepresented youth from Seattle to explore the San Juan Islands and its rural coastal prairie and temperate rainforest ecosystem, learn about conservation advocacy and careers, and build connections in an environmental education program.
Breaking the Barriers to Support Underrepresented Communities the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway (Wild Rivers Conservancy)
  • St. Croix National Scenic Riverway | Led by the Wild Rivers Conservancy of the St. Croix & Namekagon, the Hmong Ambassador Program addresses needs for better access, representation, and opportunities for positive engagement with the riverway through a sustained partnership with Hmong outdoor leaders, with the goal of building a diverse community of recreational users and stewards.
  • Western Arctic National Parklands | The Iglauyumaaq: Arctic Travelers program, created by Alaska Geographic, will facilitate outdoor adventures for teens in the traditional and current homelands of the Inupiat people, fostering connections to national parks and the outdoors among youth in a remote, underserved community.
  • Yosemite National Park | Yosemite Conservancy's United in Yosemite is a multi-day climbing event intentionally designed by and for diverse communities, featuring free climbing clinics, affinity group spaces, art workshops, and environmental stewardship projects to celebrate diversity, foster stewardship, build community, and promote a sense of belonging in Yosemite.
A person scales the facade of a rock
Over Barriers Program at Joshua Tree National Park (Outdoor Outreach)

Identifying and Eliminating Barriers

Ensuring access to parks is crucial for fostering inclusivity and diversity in outdoor recreation, and it starts with understanding the spectrum of information and accommodations needed for people to participate in the outdoors.

As a recipient of one of the inaugural ParkVentures grants in 2022, the leaders and participants at Wilderness Inquiry can attest to this.

ASL Day on the River with Wilderness Inquiry at Mississippi National River & Recreation Area (NPF Photo)

“Our goal is to increase access to outdoor spaces and activities so that everyone, specifically those whose identities have been historically underrepresented and excluded from national parks, can experience the holistic benefits of time in nature,” said Erika Rivers, Executive Director of Wilderness Inquiry. “With our first grant in 2022, we connected more than 100 individuals to accessible adventures in the outdoors, including a guided canoe trip, "ASL Day on the River," for members of the Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing community at the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. As we build on the impact of our partnership with National Park Foundation through our Affinity Travel program and completion of an accessible connector trail in collaboration with the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, we are excited to reach more members of this community and others who identify as people of color, LGBTQ+, and individuals experiencing disability so all people can form lasting connections to these wonderful parks.”

Additional projects that aim to identify and eliminate barriers will take place at:

  • Anacostia Park | Friends of Anacostia Park will host respite summits and nature-based activities for seniors, returning citizens, teachers, and veterans that address their unique needs and promote park accessibility.
  • Biscayne National Park | To improve connections between the local community and the parks, the park will provide afterschool programming and summer school for underserved neighborhoods through a local community empowerment organization, Touching Miami with Love.
  • Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail | Working in collaboration with Richmond-based nonprofit Beyond Boundaries, the park will offer outdoor adventures and environmental education opportunities to individuals with disabilities, youth from disadvantaged backgrounds, veterans, and individuals in substance recovery.
  • Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark | Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation's “Cultivate Carrie” initiative aims to break down barriers that have estranged local communities from this iconic heritage site by incentivizing partnership, promoting community learning, and building trust and respect with communities.
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park | Soul Trak Outdoors' Whitewater Kayaking Program aims to diversify whitewater kayaking on local waterways through guided instruction and hands-on training, breaking down barriers to ensure accessibility and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the sport to enrich the community of paddlers.
Rhythm on the River (Allie Hamed / Lamb Photography for NPF)
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park | Families in Akron and Cleveland – particularly those from neighborhoods that score poorly using the EPA’s environmental justice screening tool and communities overburdened by pollution with disparate health and education outcomes – will have access to in-park experiences like camping, fishing, and arts.
  • Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and Gateway National Recreation Area | The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Educators Outdoors program will host outdoor experiences for New York-based students, educators, and youth development professionals; facilitate workshops and trainings for educators; provide resources to support outdoor trips, including free outdoor gear and equipment loans; and engage volunteers in program implementation and gear maintenance.
  • Devils Postpile National Monument | To help young people from communities that have been impacted by social inequities, San Diego-based nonprofit Outdoor Outreach is planning a development opportunity where chosen participants will receive 300 hours of outdoor education, leadership development, and civic engagement training – culminating in a 5-day backpacking trip.
  • Gateway National Recreation Area | Jamaica Bay Rockaway Parks Conservancy will offer safe, inclusive, and adaptive recreation opportunities that are free and accessible for all ages and abilities – including accessible surf and standup paddleboard clinics and an adaptive cycling program.
  • Glacier National Park | American Association of State Colleges and Universities will provide impactful training to higher education practitioners to increase accessibility of national parks through university experiences that center around sustainability, indigenous community members, and building civic skills.
  • Great Basin National Park | The Great Basin National Park Foundation will offer immersive camping experiences – including a scaffolded 8-month experience for select youth from Las Vegas – for Indigenous and urban youth of color, leveraging resources and partnerships with local community organizations to address identified barriers.
Participants in Outdoor Outreach’s Climbing Over Barriers Program (Eh Ler Tha)
  • Joshua Tree National Park | Outdoor Outreach is looking to expand on the success of their “Climbing Over Barriers” program, which was supported by one of the inaugural grants awarded by ParkVentures, by using rock climbing and camping activities to provide a culturally relevant and joyful introduction to the park to increase access, awareness, and stewardship.
  • Kenai Fjords National Park and Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area | Together, the parks will support a series of low-cost and free outdoor education programs that remove barriers, promote access, and instill in kids an enduring stewardship ethic for the spaces they live and recreate in.
  • Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens | To build on their successful WELLderness program – which was supported by one of the first ParkVentures grants – the Friends of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens will expand their program offerings for non-native English speakers using technology, paid interpreters, and staff support.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park | To encourage participation in the youth camping program at the Volcano Adventure Camp, the Lassen Park Foundation and Lassen Volcanic National Park will cover costs for young people from local tribes and nearby communities who were impacted by the pandemic, the 2021 Dixie Fire, and higher costs of living.
  • Lincoln Home National Historic Site | To bolster inclusive access to a new youth exhibit at the park, the Lincoln Presidential Foundation will provide accessibility training to staff on-site and give pre-and-post-visit materials, audience evaluation, and staff training to local organizations and schools.
  • Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park | An alternative transportation shuttle system, new benches along park trails, and improving access to park buildings will address longstanding challenges posed by the park's topographic layout.
  • New River Gorge National Park and Preserve | Acknowledging the barriers that have prevented residents in gateway communities from accessing activity and led to the belief that parks are only for tourists, the Get Active in the Park (GAP) partnership between New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and Active Southern West Virginia, Inc. will offer free beginner-level activities for all ages led by trained volunteers from within the community in hopes of building a more positive relationship between the park and the local community.
  • Olympic National Park | Easterseals Washington will give 36 summer campers a memorable experience tailored to their needs and abilities at Camp Stand By Me.
  • Ozark National Scenic Riverways | The Ozark Riverways Foundation, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, and the Wheatley Tutoring Program will work together to increase access to park amenities and programs by offering a series of Junior Ranger Day Camp experiences to African American and low-income students, as well as establishing a lending closet with camping supplies available to low-income families.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park and Rocky Mountain Conservancy | Rocky Mountain National Park, in partnership with Estes Valley Invests in Community Success Family Resource Center, will co-create interpretive and educational programming for Spanish-speaking members of the park’s gateway community, Estes Park. The intentional programming will eliminate barriers, promote access, and cultivate connections to the social, mental, and physical health benefits for program participants.
  • Valley Forge National Historical Park | The Centro de Cultura, Arte, Trabajo y Educación will launch a new initiative called “Bridging Landscapes,” which provides youth employment opportunities to encourage community participation, enhances local bicycle programs to mitigate transportation issues, and supports collaborative programs with Valley Forge to foster a deeper connection between local Latino immigrant families and the park.
  • White Clay Wild and Scenic Watershed | Working closely with other local organizations, the Stroud Water Research Center will facilitate access to the park for community members who face barriers to outdoor engagement and offer recreational programming designed to enhance enjoyment of nature, foster a sense of connection with the land, and promote social connection within the community.
  • Yellowstone National Park | Yellowstone Forever offers financial support to ensure that Indigenous youth can participate in the Indigenous Generations initiative – a unique educational program that emphasizes connection to the land with both youth and elders to foster healing and renewal.
An arched steel bridge over a river
Edmund Pettus Bridge, along Selma to Montgomery National Historical Trail (NPS Photo)

Diversifying Perspectives in Parks

Telling comprehensive and accurate stories that reflect diverse perspectives is essential for fostering a sense of belonging in and connection to national parks among visitors and local communities alike. But who should tell these stories? And how can we give them a platform to be amplified?

Tallahatchie County Courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi (NPF Photo)

At the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument, there is hope that the next generation will be the ones to shine a light on a story that must be told. A ParkVentures grant awarded to the Emmett Till Interpretive Center will give local high school students the opportunity to travel through the Mississippi Delta and receive mentorship from professional filmmakers in a two-week filmmaking academy.

"We are excited for the opportunity to bring high school students to the new Emmett Till & Mamie Till-Mobley National Monument to visit and engage with these historic sites in the Mississippi Delta--and to learn about the role our community played in shaping the nation's history," said Patrick Weems, Executive Director of the Emmett Till Interpretive Center. "This filmmaking workshop will provide young people with the tools to reflect on our community's past and the skills to tell their own stories of life in the Delta today."

Additional projects will take place at:

  • First State National Historical Park | The Brandywine Community Resource Council will introduce a multi-generational program to teach residents about Delaware through creative use of nature, art, and storytelling.
  • Fort Laramie National Historic Site | "Embassy on the Plains” will be a pilot program for tribal youth to reflect and heal as they learn about the history and legacies of the 1851 Horse Creek and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties on the sacred ground where their ancestors met with the United States government and negotiated these agreements.
  • Fort Vancouver National Historic Site | An outdoor education project led by the Confluence Project – a community-supported nonprofit based in the Pacific Northwest – will connect youth from underserved communities with Native educators and tradition keepers to learn Traditional Ecological Knowledge about the Columbia River system; share its cultural history with future generations; and create meaningful art projects that connect people to place.
  • Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park | A new tour offered by the Fredericksburg Area Museum in partnership with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields National Military Park and the Stafford Museum and Cultural Center will highlight powerful stories of enslaved resistance and immerse participants in regional African American history.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve | The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area Youth Programs, including the Heritage Camp and Caminos del Valle Youth Walking Tours, aim to educate local middle and high school students on the history, heritage, culture, and traditions of the area, fostering a legacy of protecting and sharing the region's unique heritage for generations to come.
  • Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site | To foster strong partnerships between the local community and surrounding national park sites, the Western National Parks Association will offer a series of programs that integrate Native American and local knowledge, build social connections, and promote access.
  • Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail | The Joy Trip Project will bring together Black educators, youth, and activists to paddle, hike, and camp along the same rivers where the Lewis and Clark Expedition traveled 200 years ago as they discuss York – the enslaved African American member of the Corps of Discovery – and what his story means for people of color in the outdoors today.
  • Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument | Musicians Christopher Parker and Kelley Hurt are working with the Oxford American Literacy Project, Inc. To engage a diverse, multi-generational community and inspire stewardship of our civil rights history by bringing the No Tears Project – a touring civil rights education and arts outreach program – to Jackson, Miss.
Tribal Family Day at Petroglyph National Monument (National Park Service)
  • Petroglyph National Monument | With the need for comprehensive improvements to the Boca Negra Canyon area, the park will engage tribal representatives to collaborate on the plan and ensure that the improvements are sensitive to traditions and values of the Monument’s 29 traditionally associated Pueblos and Tribes.
  • Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail | Resilient Village LLC and Alabama Association for the Arts are organizing the 60th Anniversary Commemoration for the Voting Rights March, featuring a Heritage Picnic and Outdoor Theater event aimed at symbolizing unity and resilience through traditional foods and emotionally engaging performances, alongside "The Civil Rights Canvas" Art Exhibition curated to honor the civil rights movement.

ParkVentures is made possible thanks to funding from founding partner Nature Valley, and Outdoor Exploration initiative premier partner Subaru of America and supporting partners Niantic and Sun Outdoors, Winnebago, and Winnebago Industries Foundation. Additional support is provided by Apple, American Airlines, EVOLVE Plant-Based Protein, Expedia, Kohl’s, and Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold.

Learn more about ParkVentures here.

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