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Outdoors for ALL

By Nicole Pokorney

5 kids walking joyfully outdoors in the grass
In the recent Minnesota DNR newsletter, The Trailblazer, the editors featured stories of people not always represented in the outdoors. As I reflected on the voices and images, I continued to think about the statistics of who is outdoors, and the future of our spaces. According to the 2023 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, 2022 showed record numbers and rates of participation in the outdoors, but a decline in the number of outings. Also, the report showed that participants that were new to the outdoors were more diverse, with increases in several BIPOC communities. However, the total population of outdoor participants still hovers around 70% white, mostly men.

The trends report does give us hope: "Although the outdoor participant base isn’t as diverse as the U.S. population, diversity among kids who participate and of new participants (participated for the first time in 2022) strongly indicate that efforts to maximize inclusivity in outdoor recreation are resulting in greater diversity." What organizations are doing is working, but there is more for all of us to do to create inclusive and safe environments in outdoor spaces.

In Creating inclusive and impactful outdoor learning experiences, Kristina Abbas and I share some tips for program staff:

  • Use a critical lens to identify audiences in your outdoor learning experiences. Consider a strategy like ripple effect mapping.
  • Listen and learn from voices and experiences different from your own, and strive to do so without burdening others. Examples include: Melanin Basecamp Diversify series, Outdoor Afro, Venture Out, Latino Outdoors, and more! 
  • Ask the hard questions about how your programs meet the needs of all young people. If it feels like a safe and welcoming environment free from trauma for you, that doesn't mean it is for everyone.
  • Develop strategies that incorporate elements of environmental service-learning to strengthen the connection with nature, mobilizing young people as social justice change agents.
  • Cultivate approaches to ensure equity and inclusiveness in the educational design and development process. Learn how to design outdoor education as a system for building resilience in young people.
  • Evaluate connectedness to nature throughout the program. Use tools such as the Practitioner Guide to Assessing Nature.
  • Reassess your recruitment and marketing processes. Reframing and recreating your programs to be more inclusive to a broader audience isn't going to automatically make your program more diverse. If your marketing strategies haven’t changed, your participants will likely be the same, even for a new program.
  • Create a program with an organization that serves a different audience. Instead of investing time recruiting new young people, partner with another organization and together build a high quality program to reach a broader audience in your area.

Whose voices are not represented in your outdoor programs? What changes have you made to increase new audiences?

-- Nicole Pokorney, 4-H outdoor education program director

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  1. Thanks for sharing this insightful article on the importance of outdoor experiences for youth development. It's crucial to provide opportunities for all children, regardless of background or ability, to connect with nature and reap the benefits of outdoor activities. I appreciate the focus on inclusion and accessibility in outdoor programming, ensuring that all children have the opportunity to explore and learn in nature.


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