Can We Encourage More Minority Participation in the Outdoors?

diversity outdoors

It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I see an article at least weekly about the lack of racial diversity in the outdoor recreation world.

Why is that?

When I read articles about the lack of racial diversity in outdoor recreation, all kinds of questions pop into my mind:

  • How many cultures/countries around the world have the leisure time and money to even think about outdoor recreation?
  • In other words, is it a first world idea?
  • How many of America’s immigrants come from places that have no concept of outdoor recreation?
  • What about those who are now 2nd and 3rd generation Americans?
  • Is outdoor rec encouraged within the ethnic groups themselves, or is it seen as a “white” activity?

What does outdoor recreation look like in different cultures?

I ran across a couple interesting publications. One is from NOLS — National Outdoor Leadership School. Their Diversity Inclusion Guide (pub. 2013) makes an interesting observation:

“Most cultures throughout the world have some understanding or connection to the concept of wilderness, but they do not all define it in the same way or value it the same way.”

Outdoor recreation history in the U.S.

In the publication “The Latest Trends in Nature-Based Outdoor Recreation,” I learned widespread outdoor rec among even white Americans is fairly recent.

Even though the National Park Service is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, it wasn’t until after the Great Depression and World War II that outdoor rec started to become popular with everyday Americans.

Back to racial diversity…

What are the numbers, exactly?

How diverse—or not—are we?

The Outdoor Foundation publishes a research study every year called Outdoor Participation Report. Here are the numbers for the 2015 issue:

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 1.08.26 PM

You can see white Americans get outside more in most age brackets—but not very much more in some cases. The numbers are identical for a couple age groups between whites and Asians, and Asian adults over 45 actually get out more. Black Americans are the group least likely to get out in all age groups.

Another tidbit: While Hispanics are a few percentage points lower than both whites and Asians at all ages, those who do get out, get out the most—by a lot!

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 1.29.41 PM

Here’s the alarming thing…

The Outdoor Foundation’s definition of outdoor participation is: “…an individual who took part in one or more of 42 outdoor activities at least once during 2014.”

48.4% of Americans fit that description. That means 51.6% of Americans didn’t get outside even once!

Lack of diversity isn’t our only problem, folks!

What can we do about it?

At least for us women, part of the fun of outdoor rec is being with others. A non-participant will often be happy for an invitation—no matter the ethnicity.

So when you’re heading out there, invite people along. If you’re going out with your kids (including your adult kids!), invite their friends too. We’ve been doing that for years, and it’s led to others getting hooked. A good thing!

Are your kids still in school? Encourage their schools to sponsor outdoor activity field trips and camps. If you’re a home educator, schedule them into your curriculum.

Do you work with women’s ministries? Plan an outdoor event for the adventurous ones in your group. It doesn’t have to be hard-core or far from home (though it can be!).

Most of us are around people of various ethnicities in our day-to-day lives. Invite them to experience our wonderful natural heritage with you and your family.

Outdoor Participation Report 2015
NOLS Diversity Inclusion Briefing Guide
Latest Trends” article—TreeSearch/US Forest Service

P.S. I don’t like using stock photos, but this time I had to…I don’t have any pictures of women our age enjoying the outdoors who aren’t white! And my source for stock photos didn’t have any either (not only ethnic non-diversity, but age non-diversity!)













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