Latino Leaders Create Community Outdoors
Growing up in Chile, Melanie Gárate's childhood vacations were day trips to the beach. The beach was accessible, affordable, and a reprieve from the hum drum of daily life. And years later, when her family moved to Boston, they kept the tradition. Each vacation was a trip to a Boston area beach.
“My first real connection to being outdoors or in nature was through this lens of going to the beach and swimming,” says Gárate. “The ocean has always been my go-to and where my curiosity started.”
Today, Gárate is sharing that same sense of curiosity and wonder with Boston’s Latino population. Founder of the Latino Outdoors’ Boston chapter, Gárate saw a need in the local community and was looking for opportunities to introduce the outdoors to her Latino friends and family.
“There's a large Latino community in Boston,” explained Gárate. “And I meet Latinos or Latin X people here and there who are also interested in the outdoors, but there wasn't a group for us or way to meet up.”
So in 2021, Gárate contacted Latino Outdoors and opened the organization’s Boston chapter, the second chapter in Massachusetts. She’s bringing Latino Outdoors’ mission – “to inspire, connect, and engage Latino communities in the outdoors and embrace cultura y familia as part of the outdoor narrative” – to her New England home.
Entirely volunteer run, Latino Outdoors Boston hosted five trips to Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area in 2022 – with additional excursions outside of the national park. The trips were supported by the National Park Foundation’s ParkVentures program and the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park's grant program.
Each Saturday trip was geared for either young adults or families and began with the ferry ride to an island. Gárate typically led a hike – pointing out plants and animals along the way and pulling up crab traps at the end. An intentional schedule of both guided group time and unstructured time, each excursion left time at the end for plenty of swimming or additional hiking.
Culture and Community
While it’s no surprise that Gárate’s excursions include a beach and swimming, she says that the excursions are evolving as the volunteer base grows and becomes more diverse. One volunteer is an avid rock climber while another is interested in relaxed nature walks. They each put their stamp on the activity and are helping the group branch out into new types of excursions.
That diversity of the group is a testament to the need in the community, she says.
Bringing together a group of adults — ranging from a recent high school graduate to folks in their 50s — the group organized an overnight camping trip. Just like the other events, the experience levels ranged from experienced campers to those sleeping outside for the first time.
Despite the diversity of ages and lived experience, the group quickly bonded and built trust, Gárate said. As they began to wrap up, break down camp, and prepare to say goodbye, the group was emotional.
“Some of them were even thinking about moving out of Boston because they didn't feel connected to community here,” Gárate said. “They felt like they finally connected to people who like share similar values and ways of being in the world.”
What Comes Next
For Gárate, her goal as she continues to grow Latino Outdoors Boston is to continue building community — community for the families with children who are building sandcastles on the beach for the first time and for the older adults who are connecting with the nature or their larger Latino community in Boston, perhaps also for the first time.
She hopes to grow the program to include winter activities like snowshoeing, as well as branch into environmental justice work.
“There’s a duality to our work,” said Gárate. “We can bring our culture and community into this outdoor space. And then once we are in this outdoor space, how can we best recreate in it and help protect it so that our future generations can also enjoy these places?”
Generous funding from ParkVentures founding partner Nature Valley supports Latino Outdoors programming at Boston Harbor Islands National Park. The National Park Foundation has invested more than $1.1 million in ParkVentures grants to date, including support from Outdoor Exploration initiative premier partner Subaru of America and supporting partners Niantic and Sun Outdoors. Additional support is provided by Apple, American Airlines, EVOLVE Plant-Based Protein, Method Products, Kohl’s, and Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold.
You have the opportunity to help others experience joy and personal growth through outdoor recreation. Help fund NPF’s Outdoor Exploration programs to continue improving access to our national parks.