My friend and I (both Black) have been hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire for about 10 years—and they have lived up to their name.
We would almost never see any other people of color there.
But we’ve noticed that changing.
When we hiked there earlier this month, the diversity of the humans was as striking as the range of plants and trees. As we headed up the trail, we were passed by an after-school program from Fall River, MA with a group of young teenagers from a range of races. Most of them were having a good time.
(The one bringing up the rear responded to my “Are you having fun yet?” with a miserable “No”...Winter hiking isn’t fun for everyone.)
A group with a range of physical abilities was moving up the mountain on sleds. And some people I thought maybe had some neuro-divergence shared a friendly chat.
All that on one slope, in under two hours.
The view at the top was just amazing. So was the vision of accessibility.
Even more surprising was the change in my next winter outdoor tradition: the annual Mount Washington Valley Icefest in North Conway, NH.
Ice climbing has typically been a straight white male pastime; I nearly fell on my face the first time I saw another Black ice climber. But last year they began offering clinics specifically for BIPOC and LGBTQ people.
I could already tell it was making an impact. At the evening event, the speakers shared their passion for climbing and being outdoors while representing a range of ethnicities, pronouns, hairstyles, and ages.
As did the audience. The age range was broad. Some people had to be 70—they’d been climbing before it was popular—and I heard a baby crying. I gotta admit, it was nice to look around and see several Black faces.
Diversity and accessibility matter. One of the speakers, Alexis Krauss, talked about Rise Outside and Kinship Climbing Collective, which help get young people in the city into the outdoors. You might think, what’s the big deal? Not everybody gets to go hiking. But she illustrated the equity implications. She shared research showing that spending time outdoors is good for our physical and mental health. If you’re growing up in the city, it’s hard to get to the places where sky and greenery replace concrete, glass, and asphalt. Not to mention the expense of equipment and time away from jobs.
I am lucky to be able to experience nature where I live, so I know how restorative it is. It was extra refreshing to me this year to be in a space that had been so homogeneous and has become more open. That only happened because the organizers were thoughtful and intelligent about it, from the affinity-based clinics to the choices about who to include among the speakers.
Amid all the pushback and doubts, remember: when organizations make real effort, change is possible.
And everyone wins. The crowd still heard a presentation from two white guys, showing slides from their incredible climbs around the world.
Now they had a more diverse audience cheering them on.