Socioeconomic Status and Outdoor Access

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    Dalton Cooper
    BPL Member


    Locale: Carolinas

    Hi all! I teach title 1 in inner-city Charlotte and have been giving a lot of thought to how a lot of the outdoor experiences are things that my kiddos haven’t been fortunate enough to grow up with since I took a group hiking this fall on a field trip. As I’m sure many of us are aware, unfortunately, there are a number of access issues to the backcountry for folks in marginal circumstances. There’s a bunch of scholarship on this that points to a lot of issues like transportation (little public transit from Charlotte to the state and national parks/forests around the city), lack of representation (my students won’t find tons of people who look like them in magazines like Backpacker, Rock & Ice, Climbing, etc.), and cost (I spent over $300 on a new quilt like two weeks ago).

    While I would be open to using this thread to delve into some of the things that create access issues, I feel that talking solutions and asking for advice would be a much more positive direction for this. Is anyone on Backpacking Light also a teacher or work with children? Have you worked to increase outdoor access through your schools? Do you have any suggestions on resources for acquiring grants/funding or materials for establishing an outdoor club?

    Look forward to hearing back from the community on this one!

    Jerry Adams
    BPL Member


    Locale: Oregon and Washington

    In Multnomah County (Portland Oregon) they have Outdoor School

    I don’t know much about it, but I think they take students, including inner city, and take them to the outdoors.  Apply science teaching beyond the classroom.  Do hiking and other activities.

    Maybe they would have useful information about how to do it in your school

    Katherine .
    BPL Member


    Locale: pdx

    ^^^ yeah, all 6th graders in Portland Public Schools basically go to an outdoorsy camp for a week.

    I know the nature day camp i used to send my kids to has scholarship, but I don’t know what the outreach or uptake was like.

    Kelly G
    BPL Member


    Outdoor school is now part of Oregon state funding, so the program shouldn’t be in jeopardy as it often was. I was a camp counselor in high school a couple times. “This is a banana slug and it’s function in the environment. This is a Douglas fir tree. Why is it important to us?” Hiking, sleeping in cabins, table manners, campfires and singing and skits, different outdoor classes during the day. Weather discussion, archery, study of critters in the Sandy River, you get the point. Yes, it’s sometimes the only exposure to a natural environment that some kids get. One of the reasons that funding (from the lottery I believe) was stabilized by the state, several years ago.

    MJ H
    BPL Member


    Clubs and programs seem great, but if you have a job that doesn’t come with fixed days off, vacation days, and a predictable schedule, things which are disappearing in America as unions collapse and the service sector increases, you aren’t going to have much of an outdoor life if you live in a city.

    W I S N E R !


    I’m a CA public high school educator of 18 years that has also run my school’s outdoor/cycling club.  If you want to delve deeper into this issue (philosophically speaking) I highly recommend Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv for a start.

    Unfortunately, I have encountered nothing but roadblocks when it comes to increasing access among students.  Transportation, funding, and liability issues are the name of the game, many of them having to do with larger societal structural issues that Louv addresses pretty well.  I can explain what I’ve done/come up against in more detail if you’re interested.

    BPL Member


    Last summer, at their invitation, I led 3 day hikes with the YMCA summer camp. They provided bus transportation out and back as well as food. We talked LNT, how things are interconnected, and such. The kids used simple cinch sacks or school backpacks, but they sufficed. I showed them how to filter water, cook a meal with my stove, how to do a water crossing, and more.

    I’m sure there is a YMCA (or multiple ones) in your area, and would hope at least one would be interested in making something like this happen. They certainly have a good source of resources to work from.

    Steofan M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Bohemian Alps

    UNCC has the Venture Outdoor Leadership through the Student Affairs Office that might be a starting point. Byron suggested you try the YMCA, I’ll throw out the Girl Scouts or the BSA. All three have outdoor programs and a huge community outreach “rolodex”.

    W I S N E R !


    It has been my experience, at least in public school, that partnering with a non-affiliated organization that carries their own insurance is key.  It’s my experience that school districts aren’t equipped, liability and transportation-wise, to handle outdoor outings.  Unfortunately, you can’t just “take a bunch of kids out”, at least from a legal perspective, without opening yourself to serious liability issues.  Unless of course your district has a specific program with insurance up and running already.

    It was my school district’s position that even if I met students at a trailhead after they provided their own transportation and signed release forms, it was still a school affiliated activity and I would be subject to both personal liability as well as potential school liability.

    Todd Stough
    BPL Member


    Remember that this doesn’t have to be expensive.  Get a $20 walmart sleeping bag.  A $40 backpack, $14 foam pad.  Can they sleep under a cheap tarp?   If the kids really have no money maybe you’d be better off getting them into work programs so they can learn skills and how to work.

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