Black History Month: Celebrating Black Leaders in the Outdoors

This Black History Month, we’re recognizing and celebrating Black leaders within the Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside network. These individuals are not only shaping the landscape of outdoor leadership but are also reshaping our collective perception of who belongs in the outdoors. Follow along as we interview leaders from across the nationwide network and spotlight their voices throughout the month!

Akiima Price

Why is Black leadership in the outdoors important?

Black leadership is essential in outdoor spaces because conservation goals have colonized the outdoor narrative. Our representation and diverse perspectives are essential in bringing back our stories into the narrative, both in the world and in Black communities. We have deep roots in agricultural heritage and innate connections to nature, and traditional knowledge and practices in the outdoors. At one point, skills such as hunting, fishing, foraging, sky reading, and herbalism were passed down through generations, providing sustenance and cultural significance. It is imperative that we model these practices to newer generations to restore them back into the values, habits, and traditions of black communities.

What brought you to the outdoors?

My father initially. He was raised in the South and loved to camp, fish, and bike. Quite naturally, I carried those values into my adulthood. However, the vision of Marta Cruz Kelly, Reginald “Flip” Hagood, and Destry Jarvis (all titans in the National Park Service in the 80’s and 90’s) called me into the movement. In 1991 they created the Career Conservation Development Program to expose women and people of color to careers in conservation. I was studying Communications at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore but was attracted to the opportunity of a summer job. Little did I know it would lead me to my life’s work.

Collective impact involves partners and stakeholders collaborating. What’s your role in Thrive Outside?

I direct the Thrive Outside DC initiative. I get to weave together a network of diverse, dynamic partners in Washington, DC, to address barriers to getting youth and families outdoors. The thing is, we have plenty of parks and green spaces within walking distance in DC; our access issues here are around safety and the awareness of the mental, physical, and social benefits outdoor spaces provide to economically stressed communities. I mainly do this work under The Anacostia Parks & Community Collaborative (APACC), a network of community leaders and organizations working together to make the Anacostia River and its park system the best possible resource for Ward 7 and 8 residents in the District of Columbia.

What’s your vision for the outdoors?

My ideal vision for the outdoors includes transforming parks into clinics and healing spaces, serving as cultural centers for family-based fellowship and healing for communities that have experienced trauma.

Akiima Price

Chris Geden

The River City Foundation Director of Community Engagement, Thrive Outside St. Louis Director

Why is Black leadership in the outdoors important?

I really think representation matters, and it’s important for me to be an active participant in outdoor recreation if I’m going to be an advocate in this space. Also, the relationships that are made with our youth are often stronger as they learn new skills and conquer new challenges.

What brought you to the outdoors?

I grew up in a very rural white community, but I’ve always been involved with the outdoors—fishing, hunting, camping, and paddling. With every youth-serving position that I have worked in, one of the strategies that I used was nature-based programming. The opportunity to introduce youth to the outdoors in a sustainable manner is something that still excites me every single day.

Collective impact involves partners and stakeholders collaborating. What’s your role in Thrive Outside?

I am the Thrive Outside Program Manager and the Director of Community Engagement, so everything I do is based on collaborative relationships. Even more importantly, these are twenty-plus-year relationships with agencies, people, and communities. River City Outdoors seeks to positively impact the outdoor community by removing barriers for communities who are often underserved and not even included in conversations regarding their participation in the outdoors.

What’s your vision for the outdoors?

A totally inclusive environment in which all people are welcomed with open arms, and thoughts and experiences are shared. A total cultural shift on who is at the table as we talk about outdoor recreation.

Jacob Fisher

Outdoor Foundation Development and Program Manager

Why is Black leadership in the outdoors important?

Let me start with these two truths:

  • Being in nature is essential for your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
  • Black folks have been historically excluded from the outdoors (often violently).

Black leadership is important because people from the African Diaspora have always been deeply connected to land. For survival, black people in the USA had to have an intimate connection to nature in order to endure the brutality of enslavement. This ranged from fishing, hunting, gardening, creating herbal medicines, and literally navigating to their freedom through knowledge of the stars and land. Thus, Black leadership merely reflects the truth that black people deserve the opportunity to offer our wisdom, guidance, and stories to the outdoor space.

What brought you to the outdoors?

Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida and Houston, TX,  I was fishing, going to parks, playing tennis, and having family gatherings outdoors. As I began my mindfulness and yoga journey, my appreciation for nature was further ignited.

Prior to the Outdoor Foundation, I worked at an equine therapy and eco-mindfulness farm right outside of Austin, TX. In this space, I began intentionally connecting with the landscape and vastness within and all around you. Building my own capacity to resource myself and cultivate a nourishing and helpful relationship with nature.

I believe the land and all of its inhabitants are facilitators and wise teachers. The wisdom lies in the presence and awareness of the continuous lessons that nature uncovers. Developing a connection to nature has allowed me to move through the world with clarity, peace, and gratitude.

Collective impact involves partners and stakeholders collaborating. What’s your role in Thrive Outside?

I have the honor to be the Development and Program manager for the Outdoor Foundation. Therefore, I have the privilege to directly support our 13 Thrive Communities across the country. I serve as the Foundation’s lead contact for current and future Thrive Outside community partners.

Ultimately, I see my role as collective impact in action, and this ranges from:

  • Lead the planning and execution of National Thrive Outside Days across all Thrive Outside Communities.
  • Create, plan, and lead all efforts regarding the In-Person Convening for Thrive Communities.
  • Facilitate and support the Outdoor Foundation’s Monthly Thrive Network meetings.
  • Lead the planning and implementation of Quarterly Thrive Network Convening.
  • Access and evaluate organizations, entities, and individuals that engage with Thrive Outside communities.

What’s your vision for the outdoors?

My vision is the integration of nature into everyone’s day to day life. Engaging with the benefits, joy, and liberation of nature is essential for being a human. Ideally, the outdoors will be a space that connects each of us to our internal world and to every being around us. Nature has the powerful ability to connect our inner change to social transformation. Hopefully, we can utilize the grounding and clarifying qualities of the outdoors to create a beautiful future where a sustainable and harmonious relationship with nature is actualized!

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

West Atlanta Watershed Alliance Co-Founder/Executive Director, Atlanta Thrive Outside Director

Why is Black leadership in the outdoor space important?

Black leadership is critical in the outdoor space because time is overdue for Black people to fully connect to the outdoors and to all of the benefits and resources it brings to and provides our communities. Through Black leadership, we can help reclaim this lifeline that belongs to us and that should be positively experienced by all Black children, families, and communities. Especially in the United States, we’ve been disconnected through the legacies of slavery, lynching, and other horrors perpetrated against us in the outdoors. The lands and waters that our people have historically lived off, been stewards of, and possessed vast ecological knowledge about have many times been weaponized against us. To turn that trauma into healing by experiencing the outdoors in all of its beauty, splendor, freedom, opportunities for learning and exploration, and potential to inspire joy and connectedness to a sense of place—it’s our birthright.

What brought you into the outdoor space? 

As a daughter of the South—born in Mississippi and living in Louisiana and Kentucky for parts of my adolescence—I’ve always had a connection to the outdoors. Whether it was spending time running around and playing with cousins on my paternal grandparents’ 95-acre farm in the Mississippi Delta, picking plums outside of my maternal Grandmother’s home in small town Central Mississippi, or even walking on the trail through the woods behind my Grandmother’s house to visit her sister nearby, my relationship with the outdoors has always seemed like a natural one. After those early experiences with family, I later joined Girl Scouts and most enjoyed going to Camp Judy Layne in Eastern Kentucky during summer breaks for tent camping and days filled with sunshine, the beauty of the natural landscape, and freedom in the outdoors. In contrast, I later witnessed Louisiana’s natural paradise being dotted with petrochemical plants and pollution that harmed the environment and human health. As an adult living on the Westside of Atlanta, Georgia amidst both beautiful urban forest spaces and near environmental hazards and stressors, all of my previous experiences have brought me into the outdoors, and my leadership is fueled by a passion to preserve, protect, and restore our natural resources for the well-being of my community and future generations.    

Collective impact involves partners and stakeholders’ collaborating. What’s your role in Thrive and let me know about your organization?

The West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) is the backbone organization of Thrive Outside Atlanta. WAWA has been a member of the Thrive Outside Atlanta Network since its formation in 2019, however we started out as one of the environmental education service providers—one of only two Black-led organizations in the group. As the COVID-19 Pandemic began to subside, WAWA took over the leadership reigns of the network from the Trust for Public Land and has been managing, cultivating, and deepening partnerships with youth environmental education and outdoor recreation providers as well as youth-serving organizations to engage youth from economically disadvantaged communities in nature and the outdoors through exploring both the Chattahoochee River and close-to-home Atlanta parks, trails, and greenspaces. For more than two decades, WAWA has pioneered efforts to advance environmental education, community engagement in watershed and greenspace protection, environmental stewardship, and environmental justice in Northwest and Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods. In part through this work, WAWA has been a leader in ensuring that access to nature and meaningful engagement in environmental education, environmental stewardship, and outdoor recreation are not factors of race, income, or geography, and our innovative, place-based, culturally relevant programs have introduced thousands to the creeks, streams, waterfalls, and abundant greenspaces in West Atlanta neighborhoods.  

What is your vision of an ideal outdoor? 

My vision of the ideal outdoors is one that is representative of the rich, diverse heritage and cultures of our country. It’s not exclusive to any one group, and it is accessible to all who will journey to know and experience it.  It is one that honors the original inhabitants of the land as well as those who labored on the land by force or by choice to produce prosperity for the masses (that often didn’t include them). The ideal outdoors is one of unlimited connections and opportunities for kinship, stewardship, teaching and learning, exploration, healing, and joy. It’s a place where everyone can see themselves, where everyone can be themselves, where we all feel welcomed, and where we all are at home.

We all deserve to Thrive Outside

The Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Initiative is working to create a more inclusive and accessible outdoor experience for all. The initiative awards multi-year, capacity-building grants to diverse communities to build and strengthen networks that provide children and families with repeat and reinforcing experiences in the outdoors. The Thrive Outside Community Initiative helped to connect more than 40,000 youth and families in thirteen communities nationwide to the joy, wonder, and myriad benefits of the outdoors. Learn more about Thrive Outside here. 

Welcome Damien Huang, CEO of Cotopaxi, to the OIA Board

As the outdoor industry’s member-led collective, OIA is a passionate group of business leaders, climate experts, policymakers, and outdoor enthusiasts committed to sustainable economic growth and climate positivity while protecting—and growing access to—the benefits of the outdoors for everyone. To set our businesses and industry up for future success, we rely on a clear strategy and value-based collaboration. Our board of directors helps shape OIA’s strategic plan.

We’re honored to welcome Damien Huang, CEO of Cotopaxi, to the OIA Board. Through his seat at the governance table, Damien will support the success of every member company and help catalyze meaningful change across the industry. 

“I’m thrilled to be joining the board of Outdoor Industry Association. When I started my career in this business of enjoying and sustaining the outdoors, the industry was just beginning to coalesce into a massive force for positive change. Thanks to the work of so many before us, the outdoors have become a vital part of our everyday lives and a critical part of our collective physical and mental well-being. Our contribution to a healthy people and a healthy planet could not be more important. I look forward to working with my fellow board members, and all the brands, retailers, and professionals who form the beating heart of what the outdoor economy has become and will be in the future. Together, we can protect the spaces in which we all play, uplifting and inspiring a broad outdoor coalition while we prosper together as an industry.”

– Damien Huang, Cotopaxi CEO

This past summer, four new and three returning members were elected to the OIA Board of Directors by the membership. This diverse group of leaders represents the broad interests of OIA’s member companies and has a depth of industry knowledge, as well as fresh, progressive ideas. Read about the new and returning Board members here. 

New EPA Reporting Rule to Require 12 Years of PFAS Data from Manufacturers and Importers

Snowy ascent

By James Pollack, OIA Clean Chemistry and Materials Coalition Legislative Advisor, Attorney at Marten Law

In October 2023, EPA finalized a rule that will require reporting on PFAS in all articles manufactured or imported into the United States from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2022. You can view the rule here.

The final rule, adopted under the Toxic Substances Control Act, establishes this one-time reporting requirement. Manufacturers and importers of any articles containing PFAS must investigate and certify to EPA the amount of PFAS that they have manufactured or imported into the United States during the reporting period. The specific content of the report for each year will include the following information:

1). Chemical information such as:

a). Chemical identity of the PFAS in the article (the specific chemical name, if known, or otherwise a generic name or description of the PFAS if the specific chemical name is confidential business information or unknown)

b). Chemical identification number

c). Trade name or common name, if applicable, of the chemical

d). Representative molecular structure for any PFAS not in Class 1 of the Toxics Release Inventory

2). Import production volume of the imported article (in units or weight)

3). Industrial processing and use of the article, if any

4). Consumer and commercial use of the article, if any (e.g., product category, functional use of category, maximum PFAS concentration in product, whether children are intended users)

The above information reflects a more streamlined form available to article importers. Domestic manufacturers have a more detailed reporting obligation.

Who is covered under the new PFAS Reporting Rule?

The PFAS Reporting Rule covers nearly all importers and manufacturers. It only offers a narrow set of exemptions for products like pesticides, food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, as well as municipal waste importers. Otherwise, reporting is required.

How hard do you have to work to collect this information?

The due diligence standard for collecting information is “to the extent it is known or reasonable ascertainable.” That includes “all information in a person’s possession or control, plus all information that a reasonable person similarly situated might be expected to possess, control, or know.” Manufacturers and importers may also make reasonable estimates based on other information in their possession.  EPA has issued several guidance documents further elaborating the standard.

What can I do about it?

Build a team with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage in this search. Appoint a team leader who can coordinate the search. Include a cross-section of business functions that may have knowledge of where to find relevant information—that may include product designers, supply chain relationship managers, marketers, and IT department members. Bring in outside expertise, including legal support, to help engage in this record search as well as to support in the documentation of the search. Make a comprehensive search plan, and document the search and conclusions in case that information is needed in the future.

What if my suppliers have the information?

It may be the case that your brand does not know the chemical content of your product, even if you know (or suspect) that the product contains PFAS. This can particularly be true for article importers, or those who work with specialized chemical suppliers that use proprietary chemistries. The PFAS Reporting Rule provides an entirely new process for joint reporting where a reporter can identify a relevant supplier that would be better positioned to provide EPA with information on the chemical content of the relevant product. Depending on the results of your due diligence efforts, joint submission may be the best path forward to provide responsive information to the agency.

Will my reported information be made public?

EPA plans to make portions of the information public so that state and federal agencies may set priorities for regulation and to help consumers avoid specific products. Whether or not EPA makes records public on its own, submissions may become subject to public records requests. EPA expects that the PFAS data it collects could potentially be used by the public, including consumers wishing to know more about the products they purchase, communities with environmental justice concerns, and government agencies to take appropriate steps to reduce potential risk. As a result, your brand may consider whether to submit a confidential business information (CBI) claim to protect submitted information.

What is the timeline for complying with this rule?

Overall, about 18 months. The submission period opens on November 12, 2024, with the general submission deadline on May 8,2025. Certain small manufacturers and importers will receive an additional six months to comply.

How can OIA support me?

We at OIA are committed to supporting members as they engage in this reporting process. OIA will keep its membership up to date on any developments and is looking to develop a guide to help brands understand their reporting obligations. Look out for that guide in the coming months.

Need support keeping up with chemical reporting rules and evolving sustainability legislation? Join OIA’s Clean Chemistry and Materials Coalition to access advice from legislative and chemicals experts along with a community of other outdoor brands, manufacturers, suppliers, and retailers working to eliminate and replace harmful chemicals from their supply chains.

About James Pollack

James Pollack is an attorney at Marten Law based in Seattle, WA, whose practice focuses on consumer product regulatory compliance, emerging contaminants, and environmental review. James leads the firm’s consumer products regulatory practice and helps consumer product manufacturers in a wide array of industries that are working to understand the complicated and shifting regulatory and litigation environments surrounding emerging contaminants. He has extensive knowledge on PFAS regulatory compliance at the federal and state level. James’s clients include textile and apparel manufacturers, outdoor recreational product manufacturers, food product manufacturers, and retailers. He also works with industry associations to update membership on regulatory developments.




Read more from James on PFAS:

About James


Can Orange Juice Claim to be Green?

PFAS in Consumer Products are Targeted by State Regulators and Class Action Plaintiffs

What Is in EPA’s Billion Dollar PFAS Reporting Rule?

California Bans PFAS in Apparel, Textiles, Cosmetics

Washington is Latest State to Ban PFAS in Consumer Products 

Regulation of PFAS in Consumer Products 


Together We Were a Force for the Outdoor Industry in 2023

OIA Staff

In 2023, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) and the outdoor community experienced a transformative journey marked by change and growth. With fresh faces on board and a revamped OIA member portal, innovation became our driving force, fueled by the unwavering support of members and fellow outdoor enthusiasts like you. Together, we catalyzed meaningful change across every focus area of OIA, from market research and sustainability to government affairs and inclusive participation. 

We launched a new program, Clean Chemistry and Materials Coalition, to help our members phase out and eliminate harmful chemistry in outdoor products, and our Climate Action Corps continues to grow in helping members reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with science 

We shared 20 research reports delivering expert perspectives and industry-leading data on participation trends, market intelligence, and consumer insights. 

Our virtual education series, featuring 12 webinars, covered topics from sustainable product development to effective outdoor advocacy at state and federal levels. 

We stood strong in advocating for our industry, with members testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee to champion international trade priorities.

Through the Outdoor Foundation‘s Thrive Outside initiative, we grew the impact of this nationwide network, expanding outdoor access for 390,000 diverse youth. But our innovation doesn’t stop here.

We have four product launches on the horizon for 2024 to help our members continue to move the needle for business, people, and the planet.  

Together, we are catalysts for sustainable growth, collective action, insights, and inclusion. Together, we are catalysts for meaningful change. Thanks for treading the path with us.  


OIA President Kent Ebersole

2023 Thrive Outside Days

Thanks to Thrive Outside community leaders, partners, and participants, our 2023 Thrive Outside Day events were an overwhelming success! Read and see below how a few of the 13 Thrive Outside Communities across the country created an array of new opportunities for children, youth, and their families to enjoy the outdoors – helping to build new connections and encourage year-round outdoor experiences.


Oklahoma City

At the Oklahoma City Thrive Outside Day, youth kayakers representing the Boys and Girls Club of Oklahoma County and the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic demonstrated their kayaking skills in front of 3,800 attendees cheering from the banks of the Oklahoma River. The weekend of fun included A Most Beautiful Thing Inclusion Fund (AMBTIF) award ceremony, with AMBTIF founder Arshay Cooper and Olympians welcoming and inspiring 55 youth to embrace the healing power of watersports. Youth rowers representing six middle schools then rowed in their first race with over 4,000 spectators in attendance.


St. Louis

“This is what community looks like” – Thrive Outside Day Participant

In St. Louis, River City Outdoors, O’Fallon Park YMCA, The Boys and Girls Club of Greater St. Louis, and Cherokee Recreation Center all partnered to offer activities for Thrive Outside Day. Over 150 participants were able to enjoy a mobile climbing wall, a community BBQ, and a giveaway of River City Outdoor swag. 







With support from Wilderness Inquiry, over 300 Detroit students and community members had the opportunity to paddle in canoes on the inland lakes of Belle Isle Park and engage in land-based environmental education activities with other partner organizations and agencies. The Canoemobile

 visit marked the beginning of Detroit’s Thrive Outside Days, a month-long embrace of making time to go outside and connect with nature and one another.

The team also curated and promoted a weekly list of ways to get outside and thrive all through October with other members of the local network. Detroit’s Thrive Outside Days culminated with a Mountain Bike Ramble event at Rouge Park in Detroit, where the students of the Hamtramck High Schools Outdoor Adventure Club spent the day riding the trails.


Grand Rapids

“Thrive Outside Day in Grand Rapids was a chance to celebrate our community, give away some free gear and swag, and invite folks to come and get familiar with our Gear Library.” – Sam Truby, Gear Library Supervisor

The Grand Rapids team observed that while lending equipment and clothing on a temporary basis is a great way to make outdoor activities possible for children, youth, and families who need it, “giving someone gear to keep creates a sense of excitement that a temporary item does not. This event showed that gear giveaways could be a potential ongoing activity at the gear library, as it gives winners a sense of ownership of the activities they do outside.”


New Analysis Reveals Strength of the Outdoor Economy

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released new data showcasing the tremendous impact of outdoor recreation on America’s economy. In 2022, the BEA found that outdoor recreation accounted for $1.1 trillion in gross economic output, 2.2% of gross domestic product (GDP), and supported 5 million jobs across the United States.  

“It comes as no surprise that outdoor recreation and the outdoor economy continue to demonstrate outstanding growth, which also supports the historic trends in outdoor participation we have seen in recent years,” said OIA President Kent Ebersole. “The outdoor recreation participant base grew for the eighth consecutive year to a record 168.1 million participants, and new participants are increasingly diverse and looking to businesses to lead on sustainability, equity, and conservation. This new data demonstrates the strength of the outdoor recreation industry and our collective power to drive sustainable economic growth while protecting – and growing access to – the benefits of the outdoors for everyone.”  

BEA launched its outdoor recreation economy project in 2017 to “deepen the public’s understanding of the economic impact of outdoor recreation, inform decision making, and improve governance and long-term management of public lands and waters.” 

Explore the power of the outdoor recreation economy through our interactive map, which now lists state-level participation data alongside jobs, wages, and total economic value.




Meet the New and Returning OIA Board Members

As the outdoor industry’s member-led collective, OIA catalyzes meaningful change in every element of the industry. To set our businesses and industry up for future success, we rely on a clear strategy and value-based collaboration. Our board of directors helps shape OIA’s strategic plan. The individuals on the board, through their seats at the governance table, support the success of every member company across four critically aligned areas of market research, sustainability, government affairs, and inclusive participation. 

This summer, four new and three incumbent members were elected to the OIA Board of Directors by the OIA membership. We are proud to present the new directors and reacquaint you with the returning directors, who comprise a diverse group of leaders that represent the broad interests of OIA’s member companies and who have a depth of industry knowledge, as well as fresh, progressive ideas. 

To our former and current board leaders, OIA members, and fellow outdoor enthusiasts, thank you for your participation in this year’s election and for treading the path with us! 

New Board Members

“I am honored to be entrusted with a seat on the board of OIA. I’m looking forward to collaborating with fellow board members and the organization at large and contributing my experience, passion and dedication to the cause. Through our shared mission of promoting sustainable economic growth and climate positivity, we can create meaningful change in the outdoor industry.”

– Keith Carrato, Gerber Gear Vice President/General Manager

“I never fit in the box that the outdoor industry was confined to. Now I’m brought on to help redefine what the outdoors is, and who it belongs to, and why. 

I’ve never fit in the “box”; because the box was never intended to fit people like me. I’m in this industry, with my family. We are building a staircase to include and elevate; collectively, considerately, and communally.”

– Jahmicah Dawes, Slim Pickins Outfitters Owner and Founder


“I am honored to join the OIA Board of Directors and work alongside an esteemed group of industry leaders. Together, we have the opportunity to shape the future of outdoor inclusion, conservation, and innovation to better serve the industry. I cannot wait to contribute my passion and expertise to this incredible community.”

– Diana Seung, tentree President

“After twenty years in the outdoor industry, I am deeply honored to join the board of directors for Outdoor Industry Association. I look forward to putting in work on many subjects, but my passion lies in DEI and specialty retail. Diversity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a vital driver of innovation and progress. It must be a priority for our industry to remain relevant.  

Additionally, I firmly believe that the backbone of our industry is the outdoor specialty retailer, and as an association we should be a robust resource for them.   

Together, we can work to ensure that the industry is known and accessible to all, fostering a stronger, more inclusive community that benefits our businesses and the diverse array of consumers who cherish experiences outside.”

– Troy Sicotte, Mountain Hardwear  President and Global General Manager

Returning Board Members

Alison Hill is the CEO of LifeStraw, a global company providing safe water through technological innovation and product design. For the last 14 years, Alison has built the LifeStraw brand through retail, humanitarian water programs, and emergency preparedness and response.    

“I look forward to continued leadership on the OIA Board and working alongside new and remaining board members to ensure our industry thrives in the ever-changing consumer and market landscape.”

– Jennifer McLaren, Altra Brand President & GM of VF NORA Key Accounts

“It’s an honor to continue serving as a leader on the OIA Board of Directors. I look forward to continuing to support OIA in its efforts to build an ecosystem of thriving businesses, people, and planet while increasing the value we deliver to our emerging businesses and other nonprofits.

– Kevin Winkel, Wayward Founder

Catalyzing Communities to Get More Youth Outside

Q&A with Cha Cha Sawyer, Coalition Coordinator for King County Play Equity Coalition 

The Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Initiative is a national network of partners working to create a more inclusive and accessible outdoor experience for all. In this Impact Stories series, we talk to local Thrive Outside leaders to learn more about their community and their vision for the future.  

Seattle may be within striking distance of some of the nation’s most prized backcountry playgrounds, and yet access to those areas is still a major challenge for many families in the area. The King County Play Equity Coalition is made up of over 100 organizations that are working to address those barriers. With the support of the Thrive Outside Initiative, they’re currently building an Outdoor Recreation Action Team to support their members in collaborating to achieve shared goals. 

We asked Cha Cha Sawyer, the organization’s coalition coordinator, what challenges Seattle faces in making the outdoors more equitable, and how separate organizations from seemingly disparate fields can work together to solve larger societal issues.

What are the barriers to outdoor access in Seattle that you’re working to address? 

The lack of access to transportation is a really big barrier for a lot of our communities to get access to the greater outdoors. It’s not only access to Pacific Northwest mountains, trails, camping, and hiking. The issues are even locally-based, in urban settings, as well.  

Most people who live in Seattle are considered to be within walking distance from their local park, but most people aren’t going to their local parks these days. There’s a sense that those places aren’t safe, especially for youth. Parents don’t want their children going there, even with an adult present, and it can be challenging to find transportation to places where they do feel safe. Homelessness has increased since COVID and urban parks tend to be where unhoused people may feel safer to stay. So, a lot of families in those neighborhoods don’t feel safe going to those parks. 

The lack of transportation networks, and access to the networks that do exist, is also a problem, particularly in the southern region of Seattle. And finally, play fields, facilities, and parks where kids can recreate and play are often underfunded, so they’re not physically safe to play on. 

Transportation is also a problem for everyone, even those who do have cars—some trailheads just get so overwhelmed that you might not be able to hike when you get there because there’s no space for your car. 

What’s happening in Seattle to address those transportation issues? 

We’re working to facilitate or provide transportation where possible, while also working on increasing access to public transit. Some individual organizations have been able to raise funding to buy their own vans, like Outdoors for All, which provides adaptive programming for youth with disabilities. The City of Seattle Department of Transportation is also working on a new transit plan. They’re gathering information from community members to see how they can be more accommodating for access to the outdoors and for kids to access sports and programming in the Puget Sound area. Part of our outdoor recreation action team is to get some of these parks departments together to see how we can better serve those organizations. 

What outcomes are you striving for during the Thrive Outside campaign? 

First, we’re convening an outdoor recreation action team that will meet regularly and be representative of the youth population we intend to focus on and serve. A lot of our action team is really about shared learning. They’ll build a peer-to-peer learning community that will foster connection and collaboration between community members. We’re also identifying collective actions so the team can increase outdoor participation of historically underserved youth, and sustain and enhance that work for the future. 

How do you define the “outdoors?” 

When I think about the outdoors, I think about the indigenous perspective of what land means and what taking care of the land means. Being outdoors isn’t just doing something active for yourself, but it also can mean how you’re caring for the land that you’re on, and how you learn about the land. How do you have a relationship with the land? I think a great way to be outdoors is through community gardens and food cultivation, and learning how the land gives to you and how you can give it back to the land. I think “outdoors” just means being outside. 

How are you working with existing organizations? 

Part of our value in being community-centered is not recreating the wheel. We know there are a lot of people on the ground, grassroots and community-based organizations who are doing a lot of really great work in the outdoor space. And they’ve been doing it, it’s not new. For us to be able to convene these members in an action team, it isn’t for the purpose of identifying a new solution, or creating a new action item for all these organizations. It’s to enhance their work. 

We are serving a base of about 115 organizational members, so we’re always asking how we can enhance their partnerships and collaboration. From 2020 to 2021, we reserved some of our funding to create a mini collaboration program in which members could find another organization they wanted to work with, and apply together for up to $10,000 to support a two-year timeline of planning and implementation. One result was a collaboration between Evergreen Mountain Biking Alliance, YETI (Youth Experiential Training Institute), and the King County Department of Public Defense. They came together to serve a community that they might not have historically served before. Together, they increased access to bikes, biking instruction, and access to outdoor trails for youth in the foster care system. 

What are you most excited about right now? 

Honestly, it’s the launch of this action team. I run another action team, the Youth Action Team, and that’s how we involve youth in the shared work that we do. It’s been great to see how we can empower youth as leaders in this work that mostly adults run and control. I’m really excited for the Outdoor Recreation Action Team because I think there’s such a conundrum on what “outdoors” means, and what the definition is. I love those kinds of tough—but very progressive—conversations. 

I’m excited to see how people will come in this room and talk about “outdoors” and “outside,” and to see who’s attending and get a cross-sector network together. Yes, we have all these parks departments, outdoor recreation, and national education-based programs coming in. It’s a very big necessity that we involve organizations that don’t do that work, but that serve youth in other ways. If we really are trying to increase access for youth to the outdoors, it’s not just about youth already in these programs. It’s also about how we can get youth in social services-based programs to also be connected so they can start getting exposure and experience, and maintain long-term access to parks, forests, and trails. 



PFAS Phase-Out: 5 Key Steps for Your Outdoor Brand

By James Pollack, OIA Clean Chemistry and Materials Coalition Legislative Advisor, Attorney at Marten Law

Start your brand’s journey to eliminating per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as Forever Chemicals.

You have probably started hearing a lot about PFAS, a large, complex group of synthetic chemicals found in various everyday consumer products like water-resistant clothing and cookware. A combination of regulatory requirements and consumer demand has created growing pressure on sectors worldwide to achieve PFAS elimination. States have proposed hundreds of potential laws and regulations targeting PFAS in a variety of consumer products. Many of these laws will impact outdoor brands that have used PFAS for durability as well as water and stain resistance. Intimidated? Don’t be. Together, we can replace existing products with more sustainable alternatives to provide customers with products that are just as reliable and durable.

1). Assemble your PFAS team

First and foremost, you have to build a dedicated team to effectively tackle PFAS phase-out. For the most comprehensive and holistic approach, I recommend bringing together a diverse group with a multiplicity of perspectives and expertise. While a chemicals expert may understand what needs to change about your product’s material composition, a designer will have insight into how materials fit into the product, marketing will help articulate why and how your outdoor brand is evolving its product, and sales will have to communicate the transition to buyers and consumers alike. Once you have a team assembled, appoint a champion who will take ownership of the initiative and lead it to fruition.

2). Understand the timeline for PFAS legislation

As PFAS chemicals are generally a state legislative issue for the time being, your brand will have to navigate different states with different deadlines for phase-out and elimination. For example, California’s ban on PFAS in textile articles goes into effect January 1, 2025, Vermont’s ban on all PFAS in food packaging, ski wax, and after-market fabric treatments goes into effect on July 1, 2024, and Minnesota’s ban on the sale of cookware, fabric treatments, juvenile products, ski wax, and food packaging with intentionally added PFAS goes into effect on January 25, 2025.

Once you have a grasp on the state regulations that apply to your product categories, it is important to align your product development cycle with upcoming regulatory deadlines.

Pro Tip: CCMC members have access to a constantly updated Regulatory Tracker to ensure members are aware of new and evolving deadlines around PFAS and other harmful chemicals.

3). Work with your suppliers on a PFAS phase-out plan

After aligning your product development cycle with your state’s regulatory timeline, you should work to communicate key deadlines with your suppliers. There’s a good chance that your suppliers are addressing similar requests from other brands and distributors, so leverage their expertise. Ask them about the alternatives to PFAS they’ve been using and the options that exist for sustainable material evolution.

4). Draw on expertise within the outdoor industry

The outdoor industry has a long history of working together to catalyze broader change and drive innovation. As catalysts, we know that we go farther, and faster, when we work together. In addition to your suppliers, you can leverage the expertise of lawyers, labs, consultants, and other outdoor brands to crystalize your PFAS phase-out strategy.

OIA’s Clean Chemistry and Materials Coalition is designed to support retailers, brands, manufacturers, and distributors in a way that is unique to their PFAS phase-out stage. We provide our members with scalable action plans for eliminating and replacing harmful chemicals and materials, delivering supply chain transparency, addressing recycling and emissions disclosures, and more. CCMC members also gain access to a community network of other brands working on the same challenges, and technical and legislative advisors (like myself) who are here to offer support. For more insight into how CCMC can support your brand, watch our introductory webinar.

5). Design and implement your ongoing PFAS and chemical compliance efforts

The last step, of course, is execution. Now that you have a team, a timeline, and a supportive community of peers and experts, it is time to begin the process of altering your products and supply chain to ensure they are compliant with a variety of state sustainability regulations. This may include steps like testing your product’s material composition, obtaining appropriate certifications, and implementing a restricted substance list. It is important to ensure that all your outdoor brand’s products meet regulatory requirements, so I recommend establishing inventory management practices to track different products’ PFAS phase-out life stages.

The path towards PFAS elimination is not linear–nor easy–but if we take one step at a time and work together, we can be catalysts for sustainable growth. If you’re looking for more robust support and a community to lean on, join me and the Clean Chemistry and Materials Coalition.

About James Pollack

James Pollack is an attorney at Marten Law based in Seattle, WA, whose practice focuses on consumer product regulatory compliance, emerging contaminants, and environmental review. James leads the firm’s consumer products regulatory practice and helps consumer product manufacturers in a wide array of industries that are working to understand the complicated and shifting regulatory and litigation environments surrounding emerging contaminants. He has extensive knowledge on PFAS regulatory compliance at the federal and state level. James’s clients include textile and apparel manufacturers, outdoor recreational product manufacturers, food product manufacturers, and retailers. He also works with industry associations to update membership on regulatory developments.

Read more from James on PFAS:

About James

Can Orange Juice Claim to be Green?

PFAS in Consumer Products are Targeted by State Regulators and Class Action Plaintiffs

What Is in EPA’s Billion Dollar PFAS Reporting Rule?

California Bans PFAS in Apparel, Textiles, Cosmetics

Washington is Latest State to Ban PFAS in Consumer Products 

Regulation of PFAS in Consumer Products 

‘The Outdoors’ Are Urban, Too

Q&A with Rachel Felder, a naturalist at the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department 

The Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Initiative is a national network of partners working to create a more inclusive and accessible outdoor experience for all. In this Impact Stories series, we talk to local Thrive Outside leaders to learn more about their community and their vision for the future.  

For a prime example of how powerful collective impact can be, Thrive Outside Detroit is a community-led network involving organizations from local, city, state, and national levels—and has already directly led to events engaging hundreds of youth in nature-based activities. 

We asked Rachel Felder, a naturalist with the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation Department, about the coalition’s programming, goals, and efforts to redefine the way people see the “outdoors.” 

What kind of programming are you doing through Thrive Outside? 

We have nature programming throughout the city and do a lot of work focusing on bridging the gap between nature and people. Recently, we had a three-day event to celebrate National Thrive Outside Day with the Canoemobile from Wilderness Inquiry in Minnesota. We collaborated with a lot of different partners, including the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, the Belle Isle Nature Center, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Detroit Public Schools Community District. We were able to get probably 200 youth out paddling on the Detroit River and learning about the environment surrounding it. It was a really great opportunity to uplift and amplify what the goals of Thrive Outside are. These three days came out of multiple meetings with community partners and getting together to figure out how to have an opportunity like this for youth within the city. 

How do you define the “outdoors” in an urban environment like Detroit? 

We’re really trying to emphasize that there’s no wrong way to be outside, as long as you’re respecting the Earth and the people around you and you’re being safe. It doesn’t have to be this extensive experience, if you don’t want it to be. Some of us don’t necessarily feel comfortable or are not used to doing certain activities outside, and outside isn’t something that’s normalized for us. So it just starts out with talking with people. 

We have a lot of pocket parks, actually. We’re working on a grant from the National Parks & Recreation Association, through the City of Detroit Parks and Rec Department, to create seven new pocket parks. We’re working with community leaders in seven districts to figure out what they want and need in their communities, and help them build it. 

There are so many ways to exist in nature, and nature itself is not going to judge you for the way you want to interact with it. In every experience, we’re trying to bring people to nature, and we’re also trying to bring nature to people. 

What are some ways we can make the outdoors more inclusive and accessible? 

Nature is a human right, so to speak. It’s important to be talking about all of these things with people and encouraging them to utilize the natural spaces they have in their area, and just to sit outside is a great thing to do. We try to encourage them, like, “Hey, try to do some of the activities you do inside, outside.” Like reading a book, or drawing a picture, or having a simple conversation. Sometimes, shifting things outside can shift the entire dynamic of what’s being done, like having a meeting outside versus inside can be transformational. 

How are you finding and engaging people to interact with your programming? 

There’s a mix of us doing outreach, and people seeking and finding us. We interact with a lot of people through our social media accounts. That is where we promote many of our events. But we find that a lot of people find out about us through word of mouth. We really try to engage with many organizations within the city of Detroit to spread the word that there are opportunities to get youth and adults of color outside and camping. We have camping leadership trainings for all experience levels. Once you’ve done the training, you have access to our gear library. 

One of the reasons the Thrive Outside initiative is so cool and important to us is because we love partnership. One of my colleagues likes to say that there’s so much knowledge held within people, so through working with different organizations, through working with different people, it’s really cool and powerful to be able to meet people who want to do things with us and reach out and collaborate. 

How does the collective impact model relate to the work you’re doing? 

The collective impact allows for organizations to come together and figure out how to collaborate. Like, you’re having this program; how can we uplift it? It’s beautiful. It brings so many people into a space to have conversations that aren’t stagnant—they’re active conversations that result in plans and partnerships and long-term relationships. We’re already collaborating on a daily basis with other organizations, like Detroit Parks and Recreation employees, YMCA employees, and Sierra Club employees — and that’s just within our Detroit Outdoors collaborative. A lot of our missions align—at the end of the day, we want to get people outside, so let’s figure out how to do it together. 

Having national partners, state-level partners, city-level partners, and people on the ground in grassroots organizations, all at the same table, is something unbelievable. Seeing the engagement that comes out of these conversations and the work that Thrive is uplifting is very powerful. 

How have the outdoors been impactful to you in your own life? 

Detroit Outdoors took me on my first camping trip when I was 16. It’s a really full-circle experience to be taking youth even younger than me on their first camping trips, and sharing those experiences with them and knowing some of the emotions they’re having. It’s great to see their faces when they see the stars at night, or when they see a deer that they don’t expect to see. Nature is somewhere that I find a lot of peace. 

What does success look like? What do you want to see Detroit achieve through Thrive Outside and beyond? 

It starts with knowing what people want to do. Our gear library has been a game changer in many ways because it’s allowed us to really bridge that gap. If we’re talking about 5, 10 or even 50 years down the line, I’d like to see so many gear libraries in recreation centers and community hubs throughout the city of Detroit.  If people want to go camping or skiing or canoeing, they’ll have the ability to access a gear rental system where people are keeping equipment in great condition because they know other people are using it, too. 

We have a lot of vacant lots in Detroit and I think there’s a lot of potential there, as well, to make use of what we have. Some people have installed shipping containers to create useful, recreational spaces in empty lots. We ask a lot of questions about how we can give people infrastructure and resources to utilize the spaces that they have. I’d love to see more of this—maybe shipping containers with access to laundry facilities or clothes libraries so people can have gear in the winter. I’d like to see hubs for nature programming, living trailers or tiny houses where people can borrow binoculars and access passive programming in the outdoors. I want to see more free libraries and creative reading nooks with ample lighting, just creating spaces to make people want to go outside and not have to question themselves. I want it to be accessible: all body types, all learning and physical abilities. I want to see people interacting with parks in so many different ways, whether it’s reading a book or doing ecology work or citizen science, or going camping. I just want people to feel comfortable going outside and to know that they have a right to be there.