Conservation Currents | What Does the Future of Conservation Look Like?

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we explore the importance of diversity in the outdoor community when considering the future of conservation.
Peter Dunau Peter Dunau
Content & Communications Manager
December 29, 2018
Conservation Currents | What Does the Future of Conservation Look Like?

Lovers of wild places owe a lot to the year 1968. That fall, Congress gave us three key conservation victories: the establishment of North Cascades National Park, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the National Trails System Act.

North Cascades National Park protected more than 500,000 acres of stunning peaks, glaciers, and lakes in northern Washington. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act created a designation that now safeguards 208 rivers spanning 12,733 miles. And the National Trails System Act provided a strategy for stewarding iconic trails like the Pacific Crest and Appalachian. Coming on the heels of the 1964 Wilderness Act, these three conservation wins capped off a movement that made the outdoor experience we know today possible.

2018 marked the 50th anniversary of these achievements and a celebration was in order. As The Mountaineers and our partners thought about the past 50 years, we began to wonder: What does the next 50 years of conservation look like? We felt like the best way to honor these milestones was to turn towards the future. The outdoors community hasn’t traditionally reached out to people of color. In order to remain relevant in moving forward, we need to change the narrative around who belongs in the outdoors.

Enter “Choose Your Adventure: Trails, Rivers, and the North Cascades,” an event led by the National Parks Conservation Association in partnership with The Mountaineers and a broad mix of other organizations. This gathering, held in October, served as a bridge – embracing historic successes, while empowering people to enjoy and champion public lands for another 50 years.

A huge part of building that bridge is connecting with the rich diversity of the Pacific Northwest. “Protecting our public lands and waters must include engaging communities that have often not felt welcomed in conservation work,” said Katherine Hollis, Mountaineers Director of Conservation & Advocacy. “Public lands and the experiences they provide belong to all Americans. Ensuring that more residents of the Pacific Northwest understand these places are also theirs is key to building a modern conservation movement.”

Choose Your Adventure was hosted by El Centro de La Raza, a community center in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood that provides educational, cultural, and social services.

“As an advocacy journalist, I’ve been pushing the idea of starting the paths to public lands closer to where urban people are,” said Glenn Nelson, the founder of Trail Posse, a nonprofit that covers race and equity in the outdoors. “I'm delighted to have learned that the concept applies to anything related to the outdoors, even events.”

Glenn kicked off the day’s opening remarks. From there, the program featured films, storytelling, art, activities, and more. Conservation legend and Mountaineers Books author Brock Evans discussed how dogged advocacy work led to the creation of North Cascades National Park. REI shared a short film called “I Am Here” about Yesenia Castro’s journey from the apple orchards of Oregon’s Hood River Valley to the summit of Mt. St. Helens. By the end of the day, hundreds of participants were treated to everything from Native American storytelling to a presentation about environmental equity. 

The event also featured activities designed to provide people with the inspiration and tools to explore public lands. The Mountaineers’ teen adventure club held a booth on the 10 Essentials, a list of survival items travelers should have in their pack. At another booth, Washington Trails Association shared hiking tips. There were even live raptors on the grounds courtesy of the West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Live music and art displays rounded out the program.

“This event embodied our organization’s broader goals of becoming a more inclusive and welcoming community,” said The Mountaineers CEO Tom Vogl. “Everyone has a right to experience the outdoors.”

Inclusion is also essential for protecting public lands. "This event provided a space for us to celebrate how different cultures experience the outdoors," said Katherine. "Empowering everyone to feel they have a place in public lands will inspire a larger, unified constituency to come together to protect our wild places. Our land managers are underfunded. Reducing our carbon footprint must be a priority. We need as many approaches and perspectives as possible to solve these complex problems."

Glenn thinks events like Choose Your Adventure can go a long way.

"Holding this event at El Centro de la Raza was such a key move. El Centro is such an embracing place, whose art and architecture reflects every racial community," he said. "It's also located in a majority nonwhite neighborhood, which is adjacent to others like it. Those factors, plus a program with such inclusive choices, produced a crowd that was as racially and generationally diverse as any I've seen in Seattle for an outdoors event."

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This article originally appeared in our Winter 2019 issue of Mountaineer  Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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