Saturday, February 27, 2010

Leading The Way Into The Wilderness: Re-Engaging Black Folks With Nature

One of the best ways to engage folks in the environmental movement is to expose them to the wonders, beauty, mysteries and secrets of their ecological surroundings. Recently I volunteered to organize a hiking trip this summer for my church.  I am so excited to have the opportunity to immerse church members in the spirit of God's natural places and foster a zeal  for "creation care". The hope is that this trip will open the door for a greener church. Not that I am some great experienced hiker, but what I lack in experience, I make up for in enthusiasm and the ability to collaborate.(My career choices in high school were Park Ranger or Banker, I chose banker because I despise uniforms). The good news is that I have the remainder of winter and spring to plan for the excursion and I get to play park ranger for a day!

In Cleveland, Ohio, we are blessed with two park systems, a national park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) and our local, state run park system, The Cleveland Metroparks. I am more familiar with CVNP as I have been on its grounds on several occasions, including, a camping trip with my son when he was in elementary school as part of an urban outreach program, diversity training through my job and last summer as part of an early Sunday morning "beat the heat" hike in celebration of my very green birthday. I was a little apprehensive when I initially showed up for that hike, as I was the only black person present - out in the woods, on a back road.....I know. Scary. For a micro-second, I thought about turning around. As I got out of the car with my game face on, I could sense the other hikers asking themselves, "Who is this black girl?" Luckily, my apprehensions dissipated as I absorbed their cheery greetings and advice. The rangers (a decent number are women) are very friendly at CVNP and it runs a very popular Underground Railroad re-enactment. I plan to do a lot more hiking this year, so in addition to planning for our church trip, I am also scoping out some opportunities for individuals or smaller groups. Anyway, the Metroparks system is home to our zoo and spread out over wide swaths of the Greater Cleveland area. I am leaning towards using this park system, as it is closer to home and provides nature guides and customizable programs for groups. I will incorporate environmental education and appreciation into our programs that day. The plan for now is to split the group of 100 hikers into two groups, one group will take a more leisurely, educational hike, while the other will take a more difficult five mile trail, which won't feature as much conversation. Both hikes will last about 1.5 hours. We will all then meet back at a shelter (they are reserved a year in advance, so pickings will be slim), eat, rest, fellowship and thank God for the natural blessings he shares with us. We will play games using creature care and nature related quotes from the bible and knowledge gleaned from the hiking trips. Nature guides will discuss other hiking opportunities offered by the park system and I will handout a few copies of the book by African American park gurus Audrey and Frank Peterman, "Legacy of the Land'. This book chronicles their 10 week journey through the national parks of 40 states and shares little known information about our historical ties to the park system (Buffalo Soldiers were some of the first park rangers). Copies of the DVD "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" by Ken Burns will also be given to winners of the games. I am getting excited just talking about it!!! So are you ready to get off of the couch and into the green woods? Here is a sampling of the variety of ways that you can engage with your local park:

  • Dog lover hikes (bring your best friend)
  • Art classes - nature as your muse, materials
  • Birding (bring a mug full of hot coffee and learn more about these tiny dinosaurs)
  • Music - jazz, blues, reggae and country are enjoyed at outdoor festivals and park lodges
  • Gardening - learn about native plants that can be incorporated into your plot of land
  • Rainbarrel workshops - lower your water bill with these babies
  • Homeschooling programs - every child needs exposure to nature
  • Women only hiking - network and learn new skills
  • Snowshoeing - I heard that this is quite a workout
  • Running programs - how cool would it be to run through the woods? (at least in this century)
  • Farmers markets
  • Urban hikes - for those of you without vehicles, catch a bus or bike to an urban trail near you
  • Underground Railroad hikes - get a new appreciation for what our ancestors endured to be free
  • Movie nights - bring the kids, some blankets and snacks and enjoy nature related movies
The good news is that the park systems would loooove to see you. There are several initiatives to attract more diverse visitors, which is wise give the direction of demographics in this country. To get started I recommend that you pick up the Peterman's new book and visit their website Pickup and Go, which will help you plan a trip. You can also go the following websites:
I really like the idea of having culturally edited information, because as African Americans we can have certain historically based concerns when it comes to being in wooded areas, in addition to specific concerns, such as issues with insects, our hair and our desire to look good - even in the woods baby!

So go on and plan your hiking trip, so you can be the Harriet Tubman of your family, place of worship, school or social organization and lead our folks to experience the wonders, joys, mysteries, beauty and respect of the natural areas that God has blessed us with.


DNLee said...

Great post! I love all of your ideas and your commentary.

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks for the information.

Rue said...

Thanks for the shout -- I LOVE your blog!