Diversity in the Outdoors

Diversity in the Outdoors

January 24, 2018 by Asa

One of RMFI's core values, stated in our strategic plan, is inclusiveness in partnerships. RMFI encourages strong and diverse partnerships through broad stakeholder and public participation. We encourage the engagement of a diverse population to get involved in our projects and programs. 

When you go outside, you're probably not thinking about who is outside with you. You go to enjoy the wilderness and all it has to offer. After all, who doesn't like to explore the Colorado mountains by going on hikes and climbs? But if you look around, the majority of people venturing outdoors with you may look similar. These people are disproportionately able-bodied, affluent, straight, and white. A study investigating diversity in non-profit organizations even found that their members and volunteers were also majority male.

So why is diversity outdoors so scarce? There is no clear-cut answer, but there are many possible explanations as to why it's more difficult to find diverse groups of people in outdoor recreation. A survey conducted in 2016 reported that 74% of Americans who participated in outdoor recreational activities were Caucasian. Furthermore, when it comes to the people being represented in outdoors media, retail and entertainment seem to cater to almost exclusively white demographics. Some of the most notable outdoor television shows use mainly white or white-passing personalities. Flipping through the Discovery Channel, Outdoors Channel, or even browsing Netflix for documentaries, there is an overwhelmingly uniform group of outdoorsmen. The same applies to outdoor retailers, who use mostly white models to market their products. Unfortunately, it's hard for people of color in particular to see themselves participating in outdoor recreation when media doesn't make the outdoors itself seem as inviting as it really is.

Being a minority in Colorado Springs, I can personally attest to the demographic most enthused about being in nature. At Colorado College particularly, hiking, skiing, camping, and even running seem to be dominated by the typical white, affluent student. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the groups who are currently invested in outdoor recreation, but other minority students are not as enticed by the idea of spending a couple nights in the wilderness. Many minorities don't even see it as an option, which is in part due to accessibility. Unfortunately, being a dedicated outdoorsman can be expensive, and the reality is that many minorities cannot afford to hike, ski, or camp. Therefore, being outdoors seems like an intangible impossibility, and public lands are also discounted in the process, despite being open to all people.

As a non-profit dedicated to engaging the entire public in participating in the conservation and stewardship of public lands but that also sees a mostly homogenous set of people participating, RMFI recognizes this issue and puts forth efforts to make the great outdoors feel open for all kinds of people. RMFI has for many years partnered with volunteer groups from schools and organizations serving underserved youth populations, including those of diverse ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, and has recently begun partnering with volunteer groups from organizations serving persons with disabilities, both physical and developmental. In 2018, RMFI will embark on a collaborative Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Inspire Initiative, aiming to connect underserved youth and their families with the outdoors statewide. After nearly 18 months of planning, coordination, and collaboration, GOCO announced that Colorado Springs was one of 9 cities awarded with their Inspire Grant. RMFI will be leading the outdoor stewardship components of the local grant and looks forward to partnering with so many other wonderful organizations lending their expertise in our collective effort to increase access and participation in the outdoors to disadvantaged community members. We welcome all people to experience the outdoors through stewardship with us, whether you have explored that world previously or not. The outdoors is a place where everyone should feel welcome, and we are excited to promote diversity in our base of volunteers and staff!