Meet the New Trail All-Stars
Five thought leaders working to make the outdoors more accessible and inviting to everyone
If there’s one silver lining to 2020, it’s that more people are getting outside than ever before. But social distancing isn’t the only driving factor here: a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts is working to make the trails they love more inclusive, cleaner, and safer for everyone. Here are five change makers leading that movement.
Evelynn Escobar Thomas
Founder, Hike Clerb
When Evelynn Escobar Thomas visited the Grand Canyon and Zion at age 23, her life changed. “Those awe-inspiring landscapes had a profound effect on me. I realized I had been deprived of nature for so long, but I also realized there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me out there,” Escobar Thomas says. “I thought: if we could share these landscapes with people of color, it could change the way they experience nature.”
So Escobar Thomas started Hike Clerb, a Los Angeles–based group designed to create a safe space for women of color to feel the healing effects of nature. What began as a local monthly meetup has since branched out into larger journeys. The group is now looking to attack the problem of nature deficit at a national level. “There are so many barriers to entry when it comes to the outdoors, from gear to location to a person’s experience level,” Escobar Thomas says. “I want to break down those barriers because nature is this unlimited resource for healing.”
Andrew King has summited more than 50 significant peaks all over the globe, but he wasn’t born into mountaineering. “Where I grew up, the only thing kids climbed were fences,” King says of his childhood home of Detroit, where he lived until his grandparents adopted him at age 11 and moved him to Hawaii. “Drive-by shootings, nothing but trouble—that was the first mountain I had to climb up and over.”
In Hawaii, King began seeing nature as his place to find peace. He started climbing mountains in his early twenties and hasn’t stopped since. Now he aims to be the first African American to climb the Seven Summits as well as the highest volcanoes on each continent. “This is my way of protesting,” King says. “I know my life matters. I’m going to let that fire ignite me. Hopefully people will see themselves in the way I grew up, and some kid can see me climbing these mountains and envision themselves up there too someday.”
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Founder, Native Womens Wilderness
As a kid, Jaylyn Gough was always exploring the canyons and cliffs around her home on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico. She wanted to be an explorer when she grew up, someone who climbed Mount Everest, but thought that kind of exploration was only for white people, because that’s all she saw. Today she’s helping bridge that gap with her nonprofit, Native Womens Wilderness, a social media platform with 12 ambassadors who share their stories of adventure.
“Having a social media platform is the strongest use of your voice right now,” Gough says. “I want to elevate these women’s voices so our little girls have this positive reinforcement that they exist and they belong in the outdoor industry.” Additionally, Gough consults with outdoor brands to increase representation of indigenous people in advertising while also working to educate non-Natives on the cultural significance of the land many are using for recreation. “Whose land are you exploring? That’s the first question non-Natives need to ask,” Gough says. “We want to tell the history and story of the original landowners. Our connection to the land might look different for white people, but there’s a real connection there that needs to be recognized.”
Founder, Soul Trak
Tyrhee Moore first came to know the power of nature through youth programs that took urban kids into wild destinations like Montana. But Montana is a long way from his home in Washington D.C., so Moore decided to open up the natural wonders closer to his community via Soul Trak, a nonprofit that introduces African American youth and adults to the trails and parks that surround their D.C. neighborhoods. “The goal is to engage the whole community, not just one specific age group, but actually develop a connection to the outdoors within the culture,” Moore says.
Soul Trak has programs for adults that blend rock climbing and hiking in nearby national parks with brunches and mentorship programs for college-age kids (Moore is also developing a curriculum for primary schools in D.C.). But the biggest innovation might be Soul Trak’s Family Adventure Cohort: parents, grandparents, and kids from underserved neighborhoods in D.C. take part, together as families, in a variety of outdoor activities throughout the year, picking up key outdoor skills and environmental education. “Introducing African Americans to the outdoors is important, but it matters what that introduction looks like,” Moore says. “In the past, it’s been a lot of white people teaching Black kids how to canoe. It’s hard for anyone to digest that kind of situation.”
After seeing a receipt fly from his truck during a road trip, Steven Reinhold decided to make good by picking up 100 pieces of trash. Making a positive impact felt good, so he thought others might want to get involved. That’s how the Instagram hashtag #trashtag was born. “I thought focusing on the trash, instead of the beautiful Instagram shot, would make people aware of the overuse and misuse of our natural areas,” Reinhold says. “Could I make it cool to pick up trash? Could it be cool to post a picture of yourself protecting your public lands?”
The answer is, yes. Trashtag has blown up worldwide, with 50 million uses of the hashtag in 2019 and trashtag groups cropping up all over the world. “People have taken trashtag and developed it into their own thing. That’s what I’ve always wanted,” Reinhold says. “We’re so connected to everyone all over the planet now. And there are all these new people in the outdoors. How can we use that connectivity, and social media, to do some good?”
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