It’s Your Backyard: On the Doorstep of Paradise

National parks and public lands ambassadors Audrey and Frank Peterman and Daniel White (The Blackalachian) joined us as guest speakers for a special “It’s Your Backyard” community event at the Dr. Wesley Grant, Sr. Southside Center on April 6.

A young leader in outdoor recreation, Daniel through-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2017 and biked the route of the Underground Railroad (from Alabama to Canada) in 2018. He led off the day with a presentation about his explorations, highlighting the importance of representation of black people in history and outdoor recreation.

“I think black history and the physical endeavors of outdoor recreation go hand in hand,” Daniel says. “The truth is black people have been out there for a while, and it’s time to start recognizing and uplifting those stories.”

During a lunch discussion, panelists Frank Peterman (former SE Director of The Wilderness Society), Elsea Brown (Director of Blue Ridge Forever), and Natrieifia Miller (from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park & Appalachian Trail Conservancy) shared insight with environmental groups and community members about how to make more equitable and inclusive spaces.

During the conservation careers panel discussion, Natrieifia shared recommendations for organizations to embrace and tips for community members:

“Environmental organizations need to be aware that intern candidates from historically undeserved communities won’t have all the opportunities to build many of the preferred skills one would expect in an applicant. If organizations are serious about working to diversify this field and their own organizations they must be prepared to take chances on candidates that may not have all the skills they prefer but who are passionate and willing to work toward building them in the job.

Environmental Organizations should also do their best to acquire grants which can pay stipends for any intern they wish to hire. That stipend should be enough to cover adequate housing in the area as well as provide that intern with enough to meet their essential needs. Many people from historically undeserved communities do not have family wealth to help support them while they volunteer for unpaid internships. This makes it unlikely for these individuals to be able to break into this field because they have less access to opportunities where they can gain crucial skills necessary for environmental careers.

For black people and people of color interested in getting into the outdoors but are scared to for whatever reason, there are organizations that specialize in providing open welcoming spaces for us as well as offer internships and career options. Just a few to look into would be, Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, Natives Outdoors, Greening Youth Foundation and Groundwork International.”

In the afternoon session, “On the Doorstep of Paradise,”  Audrey and Frank Peterman spoke about the importance of connecting people of color with public lands, and about some of the national park lands that encapsulate stories of African-Americans and other people of color.

A final panel discussion with all the guest speakers along with representatives of Pathways to Parks rounded out the day’s presentations. Last year, Pathways to Parks leaders were inspired by Audrey and Frank to form a local group dedicated to getting people of color outside to enjoy and embrace a sense of ownership in public lands.

The informative sessions of the day were followed by music and outdoor activities in the afternoon. We are grateful to REI Asheville, Elisha Mitchell Audubon Society, & Asheville on Bikes for joining us in hosting hands-on activities for youth and adults, while Santos Soul and Word on the Street performed.

This event was part of SAHC’s “It’s Your Backyard” project, which is supported by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and is made possible with funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. CTNC, in partnership with local land trusts, seeks to build deeper connections with communities to ensure all North Carolinians enjoy the benefits provided by land and water conservation.