The “Outdoors For All” event that took place on October 18th, 2023 proved to be a groundbreaking experience that aimed to foster discussions on the crucial topic of access to green spaces. The community gathered for the inaugural conversation, creating a platform for discussing the multifaceted barriers that hinder marginalized communities from enjoying the benefits of nature. The workshop’s focus on understanding physical, economic, and emotional obstacles emphasized a holistic approach to breaking down these barriers, with voices heard from over one hundred people representing marginalized communities, the Minnesota DNR, the Wisconsin DNR, Pierce County, St Croix County, municipalities, land trusts, nonprofits, university students and professors, school districts, and community health centers. Community members were encouraged to contribute to discussions in small group settings, both in person and over Zoom. Discussions were passively led by thought-provoking questions provided by talented facilitators from the Center for Creativity and Public Health. These intimate discussions allowed for participants to delve into personal experiences and perspectives, while allowing for deeper understanding of the varied challenges faced by minority groups. The event’s success was evident in the collection of voices that emerged, reflecting a diverse range of backgrounds and stories.
The highlight of “Outdoors For All” was the inspiring lineup of spotlight speakers, including River Urke, Souzeina Mushtaq, Dr. Shawyn Domyancich-Lee, Emily Loerzel, Kyle Armstrong, and Monica Bryand, who shared their unique insights on the topic. These perspectives offered a comprehensive view of the challenges related to access to green spaces, leaving a lasting impact and reinforcing the collective determination to create a more inclusive and welcoming outdoor experience for all. Overall, “Outdoors For All” not only initiated essential conversations but also laid the foundation for continued dialogue and action in the pursuit of accessible and equitable outdoor spaces.
Join the conversation by filling out a questionare! Answer the same questions that the participants did to help us better understand inequity in outdoor accessability.
River Maria Urke has the heart of a poet and the eyes of an artist. She is a teacher, speaker, alchemist, and life time learner currently residing in River Falls, Wisconsin. River’s poetic writings and artistic touches reflect her diverse upbringing along with her Ojibwe roots and the ponderings she has being a forty something American mother living with the progression of Multiple Sclerosis.
River said that nature has been her “kitchen, bedroom, church, school, and playroom.”
What has nature been for you?
River said her first barrier was herself.
What barriers have YOU experienced in accessing nature?
Did you overcome them, and if so, how?
Souzeina Mushtaq is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls in the Communications and Media Studies Department. Souzeina discusses the positive effects nature has on her mental health, along with the barriers and concerns she faces in green spaces as a woman.
Dr. Shawyn Domyancich-Lee is an Associate Professor in the Social Work Department at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. Dr. Domyancich-Lee addresses the barriers they face as someone who is non-white and non-binary, as well as the assumptions created by those they share green spaces with.
Souzeina talked about the restorative power of nature and also how fearful it can be to be in nature alone. Shawyn said “Am I seen as a threat? Should I be feared?”
We are hard-wired to identify threats.
– Have you ever made a snap, primal judgement about
someone you’ve encountered in nature?
– Have you ever wondered if someone else belonged where you were?
– What is needed to have both freedom & safety in nature?
Emily Loerzel is an Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls within the Social Work Department. Emily is Ojibwe and Polish and discusses the importance of accessibility and equability in green spaces, as well as the Anishinaabe traditional beliefs surrounding unity with the earth.
Kyle Armstrong conducted an AmeriCorps Research Project called “Inclusion in the Outdoors”, the project aims to understand the barriers that marginalized community members face when participating in outdoor activities. Kyle talks through his research and offers a unique insight to the obstacles faced by those who have been systemically disenfranchised by nature.
Monica Bryand is the Executive Director at the Urban Bird Collective. Monica talks about the benefits of being in nature, including the joys of birding. She delves into the safety barriers she faces as a woman and a person of color.
– How does our relationship with nature change as we recognize all of nature’s inhabitants as our relatives (the critters, plants, water, air)?
– How does it feel to be a steward of nature?
– What do YOU need to fully live into your relationship with nature?