Worldwide icon-chevron-right ‘Nature is for everyone’: three collectives making the outdoors more accessible for all
Flock Together, London
Photograph: Flock Together

‘Nature is for everyone’: three collectives making the outdoors more accessible for all

From birders in London to hikers in Oregon, these activists are making space for themselves and others in the great outdoors.

By Sarah Medina
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We're calling it: 2021 is going to be another summer of the great outdoors. As the United States and the United Kingdom slowly emerge from lockdown, its residents are looking to the national parks, local green spaces, and far-afield wilderness spots that have helped us keep our sanity over the past year. 

But here's the catch: the outdoors is far from accessible to everyone, and not just anyone feels comfortable getting outside (even when the alternative is just more time spent in lockdown). Even seemingly simple activities like hiking can feel exclusionary to anyone who's not able-bodied, white, male, and heteronormative. And that's a hell of a lot of people. 

Thankfully, there are a lot of groups out there who are trying to make the outdoors a safe space for all. We're highlighting just three of these communities making space for everyone to feel free to be themselves in an outdoor setting. Hopefully they inspire you to find your own group, and get outside this summer — it really is so damn good for you

Syren Nagakyrie, Disabled Hikers
Syren Nagakyrie, Disabled Hikers
Photograph: ELISE GIORDANO

Disabled Hikers

Despite feeling excluded from outdoor groups and spaces for most of their life, Syren Nagakyrie has always loved nature and would spend hours in their yard just watching the birds, bugs and plants. In their late twenties, Nagakyrie started to explore outdoor recreation, but quickly realized how little information and how few resources were available to disabled people. 

"I had to teach myself how to be in the outdoors, and learn what my body could do, through much trial and error," says Nagakyrie. 

The benefits of being outdoors are well known, but the people who most need these benefits face the most barriers.

The final flash of inspiration occurred while on a trail in Olympic National Park in Washington state. Says Nagakyrie, "I was attempting a new segment of a familiar trail system, and immediately encountered multiple barriers that weren't listed in any of the guides that I read. I finally reached my destination exhausted and in pain, and inspiration struck." She created the Disabled Hikers website that night. 

In the last three years, Nagakyrie has published multiple trail guides for disabled outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest, California and the Midwest, and worked with larger organizations such as Olympic National Park, Washington State Parks, and the U.S. Forest Service to address accessibility and inclusion. 

Their main goal, though, is to create more autonomy and self determination in the outdoors for disabled folks. "Since parks are generally required to meet ADA guidelines, most offer some wheelchair accessibility, but the quality of the facilities and trails varies a lot," say Nagakyrie. "However, when it comes to other access needs, such as materials for blind or low vision and deaf or hard of hearing people, spaces for autistic people, or detailed information for ambulatory disabled people, for example, few parks do it well."

Being outdoors reminds me that I am already a part of nature, that disability is a natural, normal experience.

They add, "The physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of being outdoors are well known, but the people who often need these benefits the most face the most barriers. For me, getting outdoors reminds me that I am already a part of nature, that disability is a natural, normal experience and I still have value as a part of a larger whole. It gives me a place to belong even when society tells me that I don't." 

Want to get involved? Head to Disabled Hikers to download a trail guide or join a group hike around the Pacific Northwest. 

Flock Together
Flock Together
Photograph: Courtesy Flock Together

Flock Together

"Nature is for everyone. Nature is your birthright. No one can tell you it's not for you," says Flock Together co-founder Ollie Olanipekun. He started the London-based birding group during the pandemic as a way to get more Black and brown people outside safely during lockdown. 

Nature is for everyone. Nature is your birthright. No one can tell you it's not for you.

A former (albeit reluctant) Cub Scout, Olanipekun found that he couldn't relate to any of the activities, role models or language used in the organization. But as an adult, he realized that many people of color didn't have the same introduction to the outdoors – in fact, many of them had never had any experience outdoors at all. He launched Flock Together to share his birding knowledge – a practice that he likens to meditation – with anyone who wanted a safe space to be outside. 

Flock Together is for beginners. The guided walking groups teach birding basics, but more importantly how to just be in nature and feel comfortable in the great outdoors. The organization also encourage BIPOC people to take their experience back to their own communities within the UK and around the world, and the group is actively looking to start chapters in the USA and Australia.  

We are nature, we have been nature, we still are nature.

Says Olanipekun, "Black, brown and people of color's connection to nature has been there for forever. For us to be disconnected from it is crazy. We want the white community to understand: please don't lecture us about nature, please don't say it's not for us. We are nature, we have been nature, we still are nature." 

Flock Together
Photograph: Courtesy Flock Together

"We're here for the wider cause," he adds. "The common goal is to save the planet – conservation ties us all together. We want to contribute to a converastion where we all benefit. When BIPOC benefit, white people benefit." 

Want to get involved? Head to Flock Together to get details on their next walk. 

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Fat Girls Hiking
Fat Girls Hiking
Photograph: Courtesy Fat Girls Hiking

Fat Girls Hiking 

Fat Girls Hiking founder Summer Michaud-Skog has been an avid hiker since 2015, but she was never quite able to find somewhere where she fit in among the outdoor social media accounts which promoted "thin, white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied men who have all the right gear." So she created Fat Girls Hiking.

Says Summer, "I’m a fat, queer woman who hikes in dresses and has a lot of tattoos. I didn't have any money for hiking gear. I wanted to see women, fat folks, trans and non binary folks, BIPOC and anyone outside of that mainstream idea of who an outdoorsy person was."

"I knew what incredible self love and care I was able to offer myself and my body through hiking and I wanted others to be able to have those experiences too.

I wanted to see anyone outside of that mainstream idea of an outdoorsy person.

At first, Fat Girls Hiking was simply a social media account that offered representation for folks in marginalized identities. In the last five years, its grown to a worldwide community with group hikes, camping trips, retreats and online advocacy for inclusion of fat and disabled folks in the outdoors.

"My ultimate goal is for everyone to feel safe and welcomed in outdoor recreation spaces; for there to be technical hiking gear that fat folks can [buy] in stores; and for this community to continue to grow so every fat person who wants to hike has a group of folks to go with that doesn't focus on weight loss or changing their bodies to be socially acceptable." 

Fat Girls Hiking
Photograph: Courtesy Fat Girls Hiking

For those who want to carry on her message, she encourages all hikers to speak up against anti-fat bias and weight stigma. "Make your online and in real life space inclusive for fat and disabled folks." 

Want to get involved? Head to Fat Girls Hiking to find a chapter near you. 

 

Just a few more groups advocating for greater accessibility:  

Unlikely Hikers

Pride Outside

Brown Girls Climb

Native Womens Wilderness

Color the Trails

Outdoor Asian

Black Girls Surf

Brown People Camping

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