Rethinking Access to the Outdoors Amid a Pandemic


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Since the pandemic began, time spent in nature has played an increasingly vital role in many people’s lives: It’s helped usfeel more connected and offered a revitalizing reprieve from time spent indoors. But while the pandemic has emphasized the importance of interacting with nature, it’s also renewed the spotlight on the privilege attached to having easy access to it. For those who don’t live close to quality parks or who experience racial injustice outdoorsamong other barriers, getting outside may not be an option. 

In late August 2020, REI Co-op President and CEO Eric Artz hosted a virtual chat about the importance of recreation amid the pandemic with Lucienne Nicholson, executive director and founder ofInclusive Woods and Us, and Marcos Trinidad, center director at theAudubon Center at Debs Parkin Los Angeles. (Both organizations are nonprofit partners of REI.) During the conversation, Lucienne and Marcos shared how the pandemic has shifted the ways they approach involving people in nature; the challenges faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities outdoors; and what brands like REI can do to make the outdoors a more equitable place to recreate.Read on for highlights from the discussion and to learn more about Lucienne and Marcos.Click on the video for the full discussion. 

To support organizations like Inclusive Woods and Us and the Audubon Center at Debs Park amid the COVID-19 pandemicconsider making a donation to the REI Outdoor Emergency Fund 

Lucienne Nicholson

Executive Director and Founder, Inclusive Woods and Us

About Lucienne

Lucienne believes in universal human rights and dignity for all. Her areas of advocacy include safe and equitable access to our great outdoors, access to K-12 standard education, and immigrant and refugees’ rights.

Lucienne is a hiker, an enthusiastic gardener, a beach lover and a wholehearted admirer of nature and its power to heal. She is the executive director and founder of Inclusive Woods and Us, a Rochester, New York-based nonprofit organization officially established in 2019 to increase equitable access to the outdoors for children, families and communities of people of color in lower socioeconomic standing, as a way to improve the physical, mental and spiritual health of vulnerable populations.

Lucienne is a proud recipient of the Fannie Barrier Williams “Women of Courage” Award.

As you think about the challenges we face as a country—environmental justice, social justice, racial justice—what would you like to see from organizations like REI?

“… I have access myself today. I have an automobile. I still don’t feel safe to go just anywhere in America just because I can go to REI and buy my gear. I am a member. I can buy my own gear, drive my own car and get my own cabin. But what does it all mean if I’m going to be unsafe? So the safety issue is a big block to the access. That has to be addressed. Our human rights are being violated. We are contained … because we cannot move where we want to when we need to. … I watched the other fireside chat where we were addressing environmental policy. I am glad to hear about all the jobs that are coming. It’s fantastic that we are going to restore the environment. But for whom? Can I go? Can I go safely? I’m not just asking to be trained better, to have more people who look like me in Rochester to be trained better. What I’m asking REI through policy making, through relationships in Washington, relationships at the state level, relationships at the regional level is to help people understand that I belong. That I’m coming. And I need to be there safely. So it’s really everything. And then within your organization itself, if I were to act in one of your board meetings, I would like to see a little bit of me in there. Then I know that you are serious about change. When I go to your store, I’d like to be reflected as well. When I see your catalog, go to your website … it’s a sense of total belongingness. Not a little bit of this and then a hiccup and then a little bit of that another day. Something we’ve never seen before. Because we can do this. We can do this. We just have to dive deep and trust on the other side it’s going to be better for all.”

Marcos Trinidad

Center Director, Audubon Center at Debs Park in Los Angeles

About Marcos

Marcos Trinidad has been the center director at the Audubon Center at Debs Park for four years, and during that time has assembled a dedicated team of early career professionals and a growing community of volunteers and community partnerships; implemented a facility and grounds improvement plan which has resulted in a full off-grid solar panel system upgrade; and has established a vibrant native-plant nursery that grows plants for restoration projects along the Los Angeles River as well as in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park.

Born and raised in Northeast Los Angeles, where his family has lived for 70 years, Marcos has deep roots in the community. Prior to coming to Debs, he served as director of Audubon Youth Environmental Stewards (a program of the Palos Verdes/South Bay Audubon Society), where he engaged and inspired youth to connect to nature and their community through restoration and volunteer projects. Marcos has worked for the U.S. Forest Service and as an urban forester for both Northeast Trees and TreePeople. His formal education is in geology and anthropology. Marcos is an army veteran and continues to serve his community through various advisory boards. He serves on the board for the California Invasive Plant Council and on the regional council for the National Parks Conservation Association–Pacific Region.

In addition to board service, Marcos continues to serve and work toward a more environmentally inclusive Los Angeles. For two decades, he has advanced equity, diversity and inclusion in the environmental movement, including co-directing LA’s Environmental Professionals of Color chapter. Through that work, Marcos promoted and sponsored forums for people of color working in environmentally related careers. He was recognized by the North American Association for Environmental Education as the recipient of the Rosa Parks and Grace Lee Boggs Award for his leadership in environmental justice, education and advocacy. As an avid birdwatcher, he loves spending time with his 11-year-old daughter Paloma and his 8-year-old son Bija along the Los Angeles River. He is a world traveler and feels most complete when he goes on extended camping trips with his family.

Marcos TrinidadWhat have you been able to do and how is [the pandemic] changing your visitors? What’s it been like for you going through the pandemic?

“ … In relation to how this impacts us and what we do with the community, we looked at accessibility to the center and how we were connecting with folks who were in the neighborhood and who would come out and participate in the programming. We had already acknowledged that there was this barrier in terms of how we would interpret valuable use of outdoor space … and how to be in the conservation movement and the outdoor movement as a whole. If you’re not hiking, if you’re not kayaking, if you’re not biking then [some people think] that’s not an outdoor experience. So what we started to do is really look at our community and value all uses of outdoor space, even if it’s sitting under a tree cooking carne asada and spending that outdoor time with your family. So because we had this shift, we stopped trying to get people to go somewhere they would normally not go and we started bringing this idea of nature that exists everywhere.”

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