By Gabriela Sosa, Social Media Coordinator
I am by no stretch of the imagination a good hiker. Nor am I in great shape. I still don’t have great ‘gear’ and I even get lost on marked trails. But I love hiking. However, for many reasons, ranging from accessibility to lack of representation, getting outdoors can be really intimidating.
My national park visitation stands proudly at just 2 parks, and that may even be a lot considering that, according to nonprofit Latino Outdoors, Latinos “are…among the most underrepresented groups in conservation, outdoor recreation, and environmental education organizations.” Lack of diversity, not just in terms of race and/or ethnicity, in outdoor spaces is well-documented and organizations and online collectives/platforms alike are actively working to change that.
See it, Be it
Sometimes you get told what you can’t do, and sometimes you infer it from what you don’t see: people like you. According to a national parks report, only 20% of national park visitors were non-white from 2008-2009. So it may come as no surprise when culturally the idea that camping/hiking/kayaking was foreign (and much like a very elite, exclusive club) to me and still is for many.
Credit: Katie Park/NPR
Breaking Barriers and Stereotypes
Close your eyes and imagine a hiker. What do they look like? Maybe they’re fit, carrying a brand™ pack, maybe they’re non-disabled. What other assumptions did you make about this hiker?
And according to Google, this is what a hiker looks like:
Discourse surrounding accessibility to the outdoors encompasses a wide range of issues: many trails are inaccessible to people with disabilities, the right gear can be costly and people may not know what to look for, to begin with, or the right outfitting may not even come in wide range of sizing. And that’s barely scratching the surface. But concerted efforts to combat this are being made, many in online spaces.
Jenny Bruso founder and curator of Unlikely Hikers uses her platform to “bust up preconceived notions of what an ‘outdoorsperson’ looks like and put a spotlight on diversity, inclusion and visibility.” Unlikely Hikers encourages users to share their hiking moments and stories using their tag #UnlikelyHikers and celebrates diversity through pictures and storytelling.
Unlikely Hikers is different. It’s not about Getting Featured. It’s not about that perfect summit photo on a fancy camera. It’s not about expensive outdoor gear and looking like you climb mountains with ease. It’s ok if you’re into that stuff! It’s just not what Unlikely Hikers is here for. . It is definitely about community, visibility and representation. It is an invitation to the outdoors no matter who you are. . There is nothing unlikely about wanting to enjoy and explore nature, it’s one of the most natural things any of us can want to do. The words “Unlikely Hiker” are ironic, tongue-in-cheek, reclamatory. It is not literal and not to reinforce exclusion. We’re taking the power out of being told we can’t! Sometimes, that being “told” isn’t with words, it’s with representation. Who is missing from the common narrative of who the “outdoorsperson” is? Bigger body types, people of color, queer, trans, gender nonconforming, differently-abled people and too many others. To be clear, I am not conflating all of these experiences. No, they are absolutely not the same thing. Unlikely Hikers exists at the intersections.
Similarly, WheelChairTraveling.Com is present amongst several different popular social media channels. According to their website, “The mission of wheelchairtraveling.com is to increase opportunities and improve access to travel and outdoor recreation for people with disabilities and seniors worldwide through advocacy and education.” WheelChairTraveling curates a wide breadth of content from educational, awareness, event invites, user-generated and more.
— Accessible Travel (@WheelchairTrav) April 3, 2015
From Unlikely Hikers, Brown People Camping, the Great Outchea, WheelChairTraveling, to NativesOutdoors and more, people are using their own social platforms and relying less on mainstream media and certainly less on advertising to represent them and diversify public lands.
Connecting to Disconnect
Ironically, connecting to the outdoors began with my phone. Finding #UnlikelyHikers and #BrownPeopleCamping was an emotional experience, to realize that I was not alone in being intimidated by outdoors because of cultural and socioeconomic differences that I often dismissed as superfluous. It also challenged me to think about the different ways in which outdoor spaces are inaccessible, which I admit wasn’t always on my radar.
Movements for conservation, diversity and accessibility existed well before the age of social media, but social media perhaps grants people far more opportunities for visibility and connections with others.
Gabriela is a Salvadoran-Mexican-American and self-proclaimed jack of a lot of trades, master of maybe one. She loves dancing, hiking, cooking and her dog Zoe. She is passionate about social media and writing.