National Thrive Outside Day is October 9

We all deserve to thrive outside. But research shows that serious equity barriers such as safety, walkability, transportation, cost and cultural inclusion, along with a rise in screen and indoor time, are leading us to become the world’s first indoor species, with devastating consequences for youth and their families.

To reverse the declining trend of outdoor engagement, we launched the Thrive Outside Initiative in 2019, which works at the grassroots level to empower communities to make outdoor recreation an accessible lifestyle for all. The Initiative awards multi-year, capacity-building grants to diverse communities to build and strengthen networks focused on providing children and families with repeat and reinforcing experiences in the outdoors. This national network is empowering communities to thrive outside in Atlanta, Grand Rapids, Maine, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, San Diego, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities region. And over the coming years, we plan to grow the number of regions we’re investing in to 16.

The outdoors have been proven to provide myriad benefits to individuals and communities, including mental and physical health, youth development, environmental stewardship, community development and social justice. And now more than ever, access to the outdoors is critical. Our world is witnessing incredible upheaval, and Americans across the country are taking to the outdoors in search of respite from COVID-19. The Outdoor Foundation 2021 Participation Trends Report recorded that 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior, the highest participation rate ever recorded.

National Thrive Outside Day is about celebrating the transformative benefits of the outdoors, and ensuring that everyone has equitable access to outdoor spaces and experiences. Because we all thrive outside. Check out the Thrive Outside Day events happening in our eight Thrive Outside Communities below:

ATLANTA: November 13th
Hosted in partnership with the city of Atlanta, and located at Cliff Park, Thrive Outside Day in Atlanta will be coinciding with the local Outdoor Rec Festival. Learn more about Thrive Outside Atlanta

GRAND RAPIDS: October 11 and 16th
Grand Rapids with be celebrating its new Gear Share Library with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 11th. On Oct. 16th, the community will gather together for a day of outdoor activities and outdoor skill development using gear-share equipment from the library. Learn more about Thrive Outside Grand Rapids

MAINE: October 9th
Tune into the Nature Based Education Consortium’s social media channels to see all the varied ways people are experiencing the outdoors in Maine. Together, we can shift the narrative. Learn more about Thrive Outside Maine

OKLAHOMA CITY: October 2nd
Coinciding with Oklahoma Regatta Festival, Oklahoma City will be celebrating its Thrive Outside Day with kayaking and a Thrive Outside Kayak League race, along with nature-based activities and skill-development sessions. Learn more about Thrive Outside Oklahoma City

PHILADELPHIA: October 16th
Hosted in Tacony Park in partnership with REI and other local partners, the Philly community with gather for tree planting and clean water education-based activities to celebrate Thrive Outside Day. Learn more about Thrive Outside Philadelphia

SAN DIEGO: October 9-10th
Hosted at Imperial Beach in partnership with US Fish and Wildlife, Thrive Outside Day in San Diego coincides with Walk for the Wild. Local youth will have the opportunity to participate in paddleboarding and leadership development events. Learn more about Thrive Outside San Diego

ST. LOUIS: October 2nd
Hosted in partnership with Jack and Jill of America, the St. Louis Thrive Outside community will embark on a half-day canoe trip, culminating at the St. Louis riverfront in front of Gateway Arch National Park, where participants will be greeted by local elected leaders. Learn more about Thrive Outside St. Louis

TWIN CITIES: October 9th
Hosted in partnership with The Loppet Foundation and REI at Theodore Wirth Park – The Trailhead, Thrive Outside Day in the Twin Cities region will connect with park goers about the Thrive Outside Initiative’s mission and work. The first 50 people to visit the Thrive Outside tent will receive an REI Nalgene® bottle. Learn more about Thrive Outside Twin Cities


When: Tuesday, June 22

Stephanie Maez, Outdoor Foundation
Melanie Borger, RIVERSPORT OKC and Thrive Outside Oklahoma City

In 2020 the world witnessed incredible upheaval, and Americans across the country took to the outdoors in search of respite from COVID-19. Our 2021 Participation Report reveals that 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior, the highest participation rate ever recorded. These one-year gains, however, did not fundamentally alter the long-term challenges faced by the outdoor industry. Nearly half of the U.S. population did not share in the proven, positive health outcomes of the outdoors, and lack of diversity, declining intensity, fewer outings, and stagnant female participation continue to hinder outdoor participation growth.

However, there exists incredible opportunity. The outdoor industry and its partners are positioned to champion new ways to engage outdoor participants and invest in making the outdoors accessible and welcoming to all Americans. Collective action through philanthropy, programming, marketing and policy can move the needle. Together, we can help bring individuals and entire communities outside, and inspire them to build life-long relationships with the outdoors.

Join managing director of the Outdoor Foundation Stephanie Maez and Melanie Borger of the Thrive Outside OKC Community to learn how this report and outdoor participation research can be used to influence programming and policy to grow and retain new outdoor participants. Get a deep dive into key findings from the 2021 report, discover new opportunities for growth, and learn more about our shared vision for the future of the outdoors.


Moderator: Stephanie Maez, Outdoor Foundation

Presenters: Lesford Duncan, Outdoor Outreach; Deb Haaland, Secretary-Designate of Interior; Mike Knopp, RIVERSPORT Foundation; Axie Navas, New Mexico Office of Outdoor Recreation; Matthew Millspaugh, California Department of Parks and Recreation

Description: The Thrive Outside Initiative is focused on reversing the declining trend of outdoor engagement by working at the grassroots level, empowering diverse communities across America to make outdoor recreation an accessible lifestyle for all. While engaging in local communities and networks is critical, it is also imperative to work with policymakers at the local, state and federal levels to ensure that all youth and their families can thrive outside.

Join a panel of outdoor leaders, including Secretary-Designate of Interior Deb Haaland, as we discuss how public policy can increase outdoor participation in diverse communities and how increasing participation, in turn, supports outdoor policy and benefits such as youth development, environmental stewardship, overall health and wellness and more.

Thrive Outside Profile Series: Courtney Baltiyskyy

Q&A: Courtney Baltiyskyy, Policy Analyst for the YMCA of San Diego County

Courtney Baltiyskyy, a policy analyst for the YMCA of San Diego County, knows first-hand how the outdoors can immediately change a child’s mood and provide a way forward. Thanks to the Thrive Outside initiative, the YMCA and quite a few other local organizations are working together to make outdoor experiences not a “nice to have” thing in San Diego, but an essential part of every family’s experience. We asked her how the programming is going and what she hopes it achieves.

Tell us a bit about the Thrive Outside initiative in San Diego.

When the Outdoor Foundation put out the RFP for Thrive Outside grants, that brought all of us to the table to figure out how we can speak the same language and work in the same direction to leverage our collective impact. Along with The San Diego Foundation, which is the backbone organization for our Thrive Outside initiative, we’re also working with U.S Fish & Wildlife Service, the County of San Diego Parks & Recreation Department, the Nonprofit Institute at USD, Parks California, and Outdoor Outreach. We want to increase volunteers, advocacy, the number of individuals who have repeat, meaningful experiences in the outdoors, and programming around trauma response and solutions to adverse childhood experiences.

What does your community need most?

There’s a lot of fear and uncertainty here around water. We see a lot of parents who don’t know how to swim, so they’re afraid for their children to be near the water. But with increased resources and system changes, we can help mitigate that fear, provide access to swim lessons through scholarships at the YMCA so that teachers and parents are more comfortable taking their kids to the beach, and just generally offer water safety awareness so that families know when it’s safe to go to the ocean.

We’ve also been able to address justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in access to the outdoors. Outdoor Outreach, for example, one of the organizations that has benefited from Thrive Outside funding has been working with youth ages 15 to 24 who are leading these conversations. They’re discussing their experiences and helping in the decision-making process as we explore new programming and outdoor outreach, and they’re compensated for their time or given access to scholarships. One of the things they’re asking for is more resources around mental and emotional health. They’ve seen their friends and peers take their lives far too often and far more frequently than we’ve ever seen. They’re also asking to help make systematic change to keep our environment as pristine as when their grandparents saw it years ago.

How have you seen outdoor experiences influence kids you work with?

I’ve seen such a transformation in kids. I’ve worked with kids who had ADHD and were on the autism spectrum, and getting into the outdoors, even if it was just on their school campus, opened them up to such a different sensory experience and really set them up for success. My drive for the Thrive Outside initiative and the partnerships we have is really to make sure that all youth have an opportunity to do that. In the current landscape, there are just too many who disproportionately don’t have the opportunity to experience the outdoors. I spent a few years in the Peace Corps, teaching in Ukraine, and I would also use the outdoors there as a tool to take a break from the classroom during the warmer months. Ukrainian school days are extremely long and rigorous—7 or 8 hours of instruction, plus tutoring—and taking a break outdoors was a great way to unlock learning.

How have the outdoors influenced you personally?

I spent a lot of time in the outdoors through Girl Scouts more than any other agency. My mom was our leader, and I had the same group of friends in Girl Scouts from Daisies all the way until we were seniors in high school. We went on regular camping trips or ski and snowboard trips, and even as adults, with our own families, we’re all still very close. I went to Girl Scout resident camp in the summers and that helped me get out of my comfort zone and try new things. It has inspired me to make sure that my own kids have those experiences and have really mindful moments in the outdoors, as well as to think about how we can be stewards of the environment in a really intentional way.

What’s your vision for the ultimate outdoor access for kids growing up today?

When we consider the broad spectrum of where youth and families are already engaging, I would hope that the outdoors is a component of each of those touch points. So if a family is going through counseling services, the outdoors is a touch point. If you’re going to school, the outdoors is a regular touch point. When people are going to community-based organizations for out-of-school programming, the outdoors should be a huge touch point. I would want to see outdoor experiences intentionally being a part of each experience that a youth or a family has, so that it’s seamlessly integrated into their identity development.

Thrive Outside Profile Series: Kristen Ragain

Q&A: Kristen Ragain, manager of philanthropy and community partnerships for REI Co-op

REI Co-op has donated $1 million to the Thrive Outside initiative in hopes of helping kids in urban centers around the U.S. have repeating outdoor experiences in slices of nature close to home. As manager of REI Co-op’s philanthropy and community partnerships programs, Kristen Ragain works to support programming that ensures that every person can benefit from time outdoors. We asked her why it’s so important to support this, and how she thinks the average American’s outdoor experience could change once life begins to return to normal.

Why is it important to REI to support Thrive Outside?
As one of the leaders in the outdoor industry, we knew it was important for REI to support this effort from the very beginning. The average American spends 95 percent of their life inside and this contributes to so many different challenges our society faces. At the co-op, we want to help reverse this trend. Connecting youth and families to the outdoors is one critical way to help do that. The 2019 Outdoor Participation Report shows people are connecting to the outdoors less and less [Editor’s note: Americans took one billion fewer outdoor outings in 2018 compared to 2008] so we appreciated that Thrive Outside supported the idea of repeating and reinforcing outdoor experiences. Having a progression plan in place and a sense of reinforcement allows for a community to grow and connect. It will be really exciting for all of us in the outdoor industry, and others, to start seeing the results of Thrive Outside so we can all learn from it and use that information for our philanthropic and community engagement work.

What are your hopes for what some of those outcomes may be?
My hope is that participants in the program see the outdoors as a daily/regular part of their lives and spend time in close to home nature which can improve overall health and wellbeing.

During the Covid-19 crisis we are seeing that more people than ever before are seeking refuge,solace and wellbeing in close-to-home nature. Hiking and biking on local trails and parks, paddling, and walks in natural areas have been supportive and healing for many. the Outdoor Foundation, with Thrive Outside, and also the broader industry, has a huge opportunity here to come through COVID and help people reimagine that daily connection to the outdoors and how important it is for our health and wellbeing both as individuals and as a collective community and society.

Do you think we might see a bigger shift toward those close-to-home spaces?
I think we’re going to be seeing people looking to recreate in nearby outdoor places, especially in the next 18 months or so. Maybe someone who was really into backcountry trips is now taking up local trail running, or maybe someone who used to do a lot of indoor yoga and fitness is now doing those things outdoors. I think across the board there are going to be more people spending time in local parks, trails, and waterways. It’s an interesting time for the organizations that are stewarding these places, because they’re seeing an increase in participation and usage, and obviously a decrease in funding. Outdoor places need to be maintained and experiences for connecting youth outdoors need to be cultivated and supported. Hopefully, this is an opportunity to raise awareness that we can’t take these things for granted and we need to increase support for the organizations that are doing what they can to create equitable access to the outdoors for all people.

What do you think, an equitable outdoors looks like?
It is important to work towards the Trust for Public Lands’s goal that everyone should be within a 10-minute walk to a great place to get outside. But, many also know that just because access to the outdoors is available, not everyone feels safe in the outdoors or a sense of belonging in nature. This is a significant barrier. So, equitable access to the outdoors needs to be about ensuring access and working towards a reality where everyone can feel safe being themselves and find their place in the outdoors.

What drives your passion for this work?
As a child, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, assuming that everyone was able to experience the outdoors as my family did through hiking, camping, climbing, biking, etc. As I grew up, I realized this was not the case and was inspired to work for environmental nonprofits and, now, REI, which works to connect all people to the outdoors. The outdoors is good for us. What could our planet be like if nearby access to nature and the outdoors was a basic human right for all? This idea, this question, is what gets me out of bed every day ready to support, advocate and work for equitable access to the outdoors no matter one’s race, orientation or economics.


David Buteyn

Teacher, John Rex Middle School, Oklahoma City

Where the Oklahoma River runs through downtown Oklahoma City, there’s an incredible opportunity for kids to get outside and learn how to paddle. Thanks in part to a Thrive Outside grant from the Outdoor Foundation, RIVERSPORT Foundation (formerly the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation) partners with local schools to offer outdoor programming that is often the highlight of students’ days.

David Buteyn, a history teacher at John Rex Middle School, frequently bikes with his students to the riverfront for paddlesports and makes sure his students take full advantage of the Boathouse District. He’s seen first-hand how much of a positive impact regular outdoor time has on his students. We asked what makes this time so influential.

Tell us a little bit about the outdoor electives you run at John Rex Middle School.

We have an elective program every day except for Wednesday. I typically do the physical education ones, like biking and boating. At the beginning of the year, we run a boating elective where I’ll take about 10 to 15 students and we bike together to the Boathouse District, which is an Olympic training site with a lot of resources for the kids. We’ll paddle around for 30 to 40 minutes, then bike back to school.

Getting the opportunity to kayak on the river is really, really cool. We also have after school programs a lot of kids participate in right after dismissal, where the kayak coach will take them down to the water and they’ll do things like weight lifting, training, cardio, and, of course, paddling. They get involved in regattas and races. We don’t have a lot of the traditional sports other middle schools have, so our hope is to give kids the opportunity to get involved in something that helps them stay in shape, get outside, and get interested in kayaking and the outdoors. One of our long-term goals is also to help students use these skills to qualify for college scholarships.

Does this outdoor time have a positive impact on your students’ academics?

We require our students to be caught up on their schoolwork in order to participate in electives, otherwise they have to go to study hall. That means they’d be catching up during that last hour of the day instead of going to their elective. They get to choose at the beginning of the year what their electives are, so no kid wants to be stuck in study hall. These are things they enjoy and want to participate in. So that has been a really good incentive for these kids to stay up in their schoolwork. We don’t want that to hang over their heads, but at the same time, it’s important to get their work done. This is the thing that keeps them honest and accountable.

How else have you seen these outdoors programs influence your students?

This program definitely has a positive influence on their mood. We have some students who come from rough backgrounds, like any teacher would. It’s night and day—we’ll go on a bike ride and I’ll ride up next to a kid, and they’ll have a smile on their face, the wind in their hair, and all of a sudden they’re having a good time. We’re outside of school, and they become different people at that point. It’s really cool to have those types of experiences and conversations with kids when we’re out in the world and they’re having a good time and they’re with their friends. Not every teacher can have that sort of openness with their students, and I’m really thankful that I’m a person the kids can come to, whether it’s inside the school walls or outside.

How has your own outdoor experience growing up influenced you?

Getting outside has always been a passion of mine. I have a twin brother and we’re very active people. We played sports in the street and I started snowboard lessons when I was in kindergarten. I’ve been shredding ever since. I played rugby in college, so I knew when I started teaching that I wanted to incorporate sports or physical education in some way to what I was doing. Because I grew up being comfortable on a bike and a kayak, it was a natural fit for me to lead this program when the opportunity came up for me. It can be stressful to lead students on bikes through the city, but for me it was a perfect fit so I could take my passion for the outdoors and show them how much fun we could have.

How do you hope that these outdoor experiences will influence your students later in life?

Especially at their age, these kids are just so natural with technology. They’re so immersed in their phones and their computers. They’re looking at their Chromebooks a lot of the day at school, too, so I think it’s really cool to be able to take them away from the apps and the screens, especially during the school day. As they go into high school and college and become adults, I would hope that they would develop a passion similar to mine—wanting to go break a sweat, wanting to be outside and run around and have some fun. You’re never too old to have some fun outside.

Outdoor Foundation and Winnebago Industries Foundation Support Communities to Thrive Outside

Outdoor Foundation and Winnebago Industries Foundation Support Communities to Thrive Outside

EDEN PRAIRIE, MINNESOTA, October 6, 2020 – More kids and communities will build meaningful connections to nature through the Winnebago Industries Foundation’s partnership support to Thrive Outside, an Outdoor Foundation collective impact initiative. During the month of October, Winnebago Industries will celebrate outdoor equity partners and inspire employees, family and friends to do good deeds and GO outdoors during its GO for Good Challenge.

“Thrive Outside is designed to create healthy individuals, communities and economies by making the outdoors a habit,” said Stephanie Maez, Outdoor Foundation managing director. “Centering community leadership and voice, Thrive Outside communities ensure that all people feel a connection with nature and realize the health and mental health benefits the outdoors provide.”

Launched in 2019, Thrive Outside provides multi-year capacity building grants to diverse communities to create or strengthen partnerships between existing local organizations such as schools, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and nonprofit conservation and outdoor organizations that engage kids and families in repeat and reinforcing positive outdoor experiences. Atlanta, San Diego, Oklahoma City and Grand Rapids, Mich. are the first Thrive Outside communities, with an additional four communities activating in 2021.

“Winnebago Industries and the Winnebago Industries Foundation strive to connect people with transformative outdoor experiences. We also are strong believers in the power of people working together to strengthen the communities they call home,” said Michael Happe, Winnebago Industries President and CEO. “As our team members kickoff a month of giving and outdoor wellness, we are thrilled to announce this partnership with the Outdoor Foundation, outdoor industry colleagues and communities across the country.”

To participate in the WGO for Good Challenge simply do a good deed, engage in an outdoor adventure, and inspire your friends and family on social media with #GOforGood.

About Winnebago Industries and Winnebago Industries Foundation

Winnebago Industries, Inc. is a leading North American manufacturer of outdoor lifestyle products under the Winnebago, Grand Design, Newmar and Chris-Craft brands, which are used primarily in leisure travel and outdoor recreation activities. The Company builds quality motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheel products and boats. Winnebago Industries has multiple facilities in Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and Florida. The Company’s common stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and traded under the symbol WGO.

The Winnebago Industries Foundation seeks to inspire new generations of outdoor enthusiasts, mobilize resources to reach people in need, and support employee volunteers to build strong communities where we work, live and explore. We focus our community investment in three impact areas: outdoors, access, and community. Learn more at

About the Outdoor Foundation

The Outdoor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Outdoor Industry Association, is a national 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to getting people outside for their health, the health of communities and the health of the outdoor industry. Through community investment and groundbreaking research, the Outdoor Foundation works with many partners to get more people outside more often. Visit for more information.

Winnebago Industries Contact: Sam Jefson – Public Relations Specialist – 641-585-6803 –

Outdoor Foundation Contact: Andriana Rogers – Marketing Communications Manager – 720-629-3542 –


Alicia Evans

Senior Director of Community Programs, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Atlanta

Alicia Evans has been with the Chattahoochee Nature Center (CNC) in the metro Atlanta area since 2007. She grew up in Atlanta and has always loved nature and the outdoors, but it wasn’t until she learned that “environmental education” was something she could study in college that she realized she could turn it into a career.

Evans, senior director of community programs at CNC, is passionate about sharing nature with children – to show them the possibilities the outdoors holds for them, as both a wonderful place to pass the time and as a potential career. We asked her about CNC’s work with the Thrive Outside program and why it’s vital to understand and meet basic safety needs for families as they’re introduced to the outdoors.

Tell us a little bit about what the Nature Center is doing as part of the Thrive Outside program.

Atlanta is such a diverse community, so depending on where you go, access to and awareness of the outdoors and environment aren’t equal. Grants like this allow us to start with awareness and to help children learn that it’s fun to be outside and there are so many things to explore. It’s a great, healthy way to stay active and show them the outdoor opportunities Atlanta has to offer. Our center is right on the Chattahoochee River, which is the major waterway for the city. So in our programming—we host programs on-site and deliver outreach programming to meet them where they are, at youth centers and organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA – we teach kids how it’s all connected – about the watershed, and its effects all of us and even how we can impact the water we drink at home. We help them understand that they have an opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment as a whole, from the water quality to the birds they hear to the plants they see. The funding from Thrive Outside has really helped us reach these communities, be able to take down barriers in them that exist for access and to bring the outdoors to them.

What drives your passion for this work?

When I graduated from the Warnell School of Forestry at the University of Georgia, I thought that I was going to do research as a traveling wildlife biologist. But I realized that I love my home, Atlanta. I came to CNC as a camp counselor initially, taking eighth and ninth graders out on trips, and then I started as a naturalist, teaching environmental education programs.

What’s fun about teaching people about nature is watching them have that “aha moment” we all love to talk about as environmental educators – the moment where it clicks, when you realize you may have discovered that you want to learn more about the outdoors, about nature. My aha moment was when I was a child, and my grandmother taught me what a chickadee was when we were looking at birds out the kitchen window. My aha about teaching others about nature was when I guided canoe trips in the Boundary Waters with Girl Scouts, gaining a deep appreciation of nature and wanting to share that with people. I understood why we should care about nature, I understood that everything is intertwined and I wanted to challenge myself to translate that message to others.

How have you seen the outdoors impact kids you’ve worked with?

In 2008, I had an opportunity to be a canoe guide on Paddle Georgia, a 100-plus-mile canoeing trip with the Georgia River Network. The Nature Center was tapped to guide a group of underserved students, and it was so hard but so rewarding. Some of the kids didn’t know how to swim – most had never been in a canoe. We worked with them over the week to build their personal strength, teamwork and self-confidence to be comfortable outdoors, skillfully paddle their own canoe and be proud of their accomplishments — all while being able to show them beautiful places across the state. Seeing time with nature change these kids – to give them confidence and an appreciation for the natural world – it’s powerful. It makes me emotional to think about it. It’s why I returned to lead this trip for these kids each year for 10 summers.

It’s fun to see the kids transform from feeling like “I’m not getting in a river” and maybe feeling a little anxious to feeling comfortable being outside, having fun and being so proud they beg to have their picture taken when they’re the one paddling the canoe. It’s amazing – almost a metamorphosis. It speaks to the value of nature and the success of programs like this. When you take away the electronics and all the other distractions and allow a child to focus on themselves and help them grow as a person, I think that’s a real “aha moment,” and it’s where my passion for this type of work comes from.

What are your hopes for what will come out of the Thrive Outside program?

The Thrive Outside program is a three-year program. Having one-time outdoor experiences is important, but this structure allows us to interact with children more deeply, on multiple occasions and to be a part of their growth over time. We allow them to become more comfortable in an outdoor setting, with snakes and bugs, or even hiking on a trail or paddling a canoe. I think it really helps broaden their perspectives and show them that everything has a purpose and that nature can be fun! Every leaf on the ground is important, and if you turn over a rock, you learn that that’s something’s habitat. We want to help them gain a sense of place and to start them on a journey that begins with an awareness of nature and sends them toward being a steward of the earth.

Reaching the kids is super valuable, but we also need to approach this journey from a family level. Often, adults need engagement with and introductions to the outdoors, too, in order to keep that thread alive. I would hope that this program enables the children to encourage their families to join them on the journey and that we can reach adults and help them foster an interest in the outdoors for themselves and their families.

What’s your dream for future generations of children?

My hope, first and foremost, is that there are more opportunities for green space in urban environments and that we prioritize that need for the people who live there. An organization like ours might be in a position to inspire someone to recognize that there’s nature everywhere and then go out and create green space for those in their community. Whether it’s a small plot or a big meadow, it doesn’t matter. We’re noticing it now with the pandemic—people are staying home, and all of a sudden, they’re like, “Oh my goodness. The air is clear, and there are birds singing. Where did all this nature come from?” I’m hopeful that this brings a reminder to everyone that you can’t escape nature; in fact, you need it. And you need to take care of it so that it takes care of you.

We also need to make sure that the outdoors feels safe for everyone. I remember when I was teaching outreach programming in an underserved area in Atlanta where community access and awareness of outdoor recreation are limited. We were at the Outdoor Activity Center in West Atlanta, about to head into the forest on a hike, and there was a child who — you could just tell by looking at him — was nervous. I asked him if he was excited to go hiking, and, I’ll never forget this. He said, “Miss Alicia, I just don’t want to go in there. That’s where the bad people are.” It was a different kind of “aha moment,” one where I realized the privilege I have that allows me to think of going hiking and get excited about it, rather than fear for my general safety. I think about that experience a lot. I regularly remind myself that being outdoors and what it means for me may not mean the same to others. When I am taking others outdoors, there may be fears—both spoken and unspoken—context and previous experiences unknown to me. You’re never going to reach somebody with your message unless their basic needs—safety, food, etc. — are cared for.

A good naturalist, a good interpreter, works to translate something previously misunderstood or unfamiliar—nature, in this case—and helps guide the learner—this young boy—to begin to understand and to have an appreciation of what was previously unknown. It is my hope that Chattahoochee Nature Center can successfully interpret nature for those who join us in our programming and make it fun, better understood, safe and potentially life-changing.