From hunters to social justice champions, climbers to climate change activists, veterans to women’s rights advocates, this year’s class of Emerging Leaders features a remarkable collection of young men and women from different backgrounds who have all arrived at a common place.
They all care about the land, and its protection.
The Emerging Leaders Program (“ELP”) trains a diverse group of outdoor recreationists to help revitalize conservation by making it relevant to all Americans. In conjunction with The Teton Schools, participants receive three days of training in advance of The SHIFT Festival, then lead the proceedings as panelists, moderators and keynote speakers.
“The coalition of stakeholders working to protect our public lands has the potential to become a movement,” says Christian Beckwith, the Director of The Center for Jackson Hole. “Outdoor recreationists, land managers, and conservationists realize their greatest opportunities for effectiveness when they address issues of common concern with a unified voice. Working together to achieve shared objectives, our ability to champion our public lands in a time of unprecedented threat is extraordinary.
“One of the greatest threats to the movement’s success is fragmentation. Compartmentalization of work, replication of effort, lack of communication between principals, and conflict between natural allies are just a few of the challenges that conspire against a united whole.
“Lack of diversity is our Achilles heel. 85% of Americans live in urban areas. America is slated to become a minority-majority country by 2040. America’s hunting and angling communities, which have long carried the country’s conservation work on their backs via the ca. $750M in taxes they pay each year for conservation, are overwhelmingly Caucasian. If the efforts to protect America’s lands, waters and wildlife continue to be led by Caucasians as they have been historically, it will not be enough to secure their health and well-being.”
This year’s class of Emerging Leaders embodies our goal: a coalition of Americans of all cultures, experiences and perspectives united behind a passion for place—and committed to its protection.
“Only a coalition that represents the breadth of the American experience will be able to guarantee the health and wellbeing of our public lands.
Please join us in welcoming The Emerging Leaders Program Class of 2017.
The 2017 Emerging Leaders
Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye is currently a Master’s Student in City and Regional Planning Program at The University of Pennsylvania. Brought up in Ghana, she developed a deepened interest in sustainability, environmental and conservation issues in her formative years.
Pee has been involved in sustainability and conservation efforts through trail work, academic research, volunteering and leadership positions in the US and sub-Saharan Africa. She was awarded the Hulet Hornbeck Emerging Leaders in Trails scholarship by the American Trails Association, the Philadelphia Future Leaders Graduate Scholarship by the Urban Land Institute, Leslie and Greta Spaulding Education Fund Scholarship, Francis Pitkin and Richard P. Byler Charitable Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation Scholarships, and Richard G. Bickel Planning Education Award Scholarship by the American Planning Association Pennsylvania Chapter. She is a public affairs committee member of the America Trails Association, a climate justice work group member of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and an Appalachian Trail Next Generation Advisory Council Member for Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
“As a dynamic, results-oriented and versatile professional, with a demonstrated track record of leading thorough, bilingual urban planning and market research to deliver urban growth, sustainability and profitability results, I am interested in environmental conservation and encouraging outdoor recreation to promote healthy lifestyles through trails. My interest in trails was deepened after realizing outdoor space continues to shrink due to urbanization; thus I started advocating for trails for leisure and outdoor events.
“My long-term goal is to contribute to sustainable communities in the built environment to meet the fast pace of urbanization—hence my focus on promoting conservation. I aspire to be a leader in urban development by improving the environmental conditions of the built environment for vulnerable societies.”
Mitch focuses on online content that praises the outdoors. In his work he looks for visual stories about nature, athletes, and organizations that are pushing the industry forward. He feels it’s his role to share their story in a way that connects to the Outside readership.
Some recent initiatives he’s helped launch recently are a series of videos dedicated to the preservation of Bears Ears, a significant ramping up of women’s specific stories, and a video series entirely dedicated to adaptive recreation.
“Like most of us, the outdoors spoke to me from an early age. I’ve had my eye on a career in the outdoors since watching Kelly Slater dominate the surf circuit and Warren Miller bless our eyes with the most insane skiing footage the world has ever seen. I was hooked on video.When I attended a university with a strong social justice component I knew I’d need to find a way to incorporate those values into my work. With Outside’s voice I’m able to highlight stories involving people of color, women, and other populations not often addressed in the outdoor world.”
Originally from Bozeman, Montana, Zach completed his undergrad at the University of Montana in 2013, where he focused his studies on fisheries management, water policy and climate change. He served as the student body president in 2012-13, and after graduation went on to lead a research project at Georgetown University dealing with US immigration reform. He is currently serving his second term in the Montana House of Representatives, where his committee work focuses on natural resource policy. He is Co-Chair of the Sportsmen’s Caucus, and the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources and Water Policy Committees. At home, Zach is a Program Manager at One Montana, leading the Resilient Montana program, which focuses on climate science communication and adaptation support with rural Montana communities. He is an avid hunter and fly-fisherman, and the proud uncle of five.
“My passion for hunting and fishing is a core component of my upbringing, lifestyle and identity as a Montanan. I was motivated to run for public office by the issues surrounding public access, federal land transfer proposals, and water and lands conservation.”
Allie is a public lands advocate and wildlife conservationist, which she shares frequently via her social media channels (@outdoors_allie). She is a founding member of Artemis Sportswomen, a conservation group supported by the National Wildlife Federation, and has lobbied in DC for public lands on behalf of Artemis.
“Whether folks realize it or not, public land and wildlife conservation affects us on a global scale. They’re vital to our wellbeing. I’ve chosen this work because it stands for something greater than myself. It protects our freedom to roam, experience true wilderness, and connect with the animals that live there.”
Zintkala Luta Win Eiring is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe (Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota). She currently serves as an Americorp member at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Regional Office in Massachusetts as the Jr. Native American Liaison for Northeastern and Southeastern Tribes. Previously, Zintkala studied at George Washington University through scholarship as a Millanovich Fellow with the Native American Political Leadership Program. While taking masters classes, she interned at Health and Human Services within the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs and the Administration of Native Americans. Zintkala graduated with a B.S. in Applied Global Conservation from George Mason University. During undergrad, she interned with the National Park Service in Prince William, VA. While studying Wildlife Ecology at the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation, she was an Animal Keeper Aid for red pandas and clouded leopards at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, VA.
“It is Lakota belief that before one is born, they choose their parents. This is contrary to popular, American, or scientific belief, but it is a story my Unci (grandmother) has told me since I was little.
“Although I have experienced racism and sexism and at times have wanted to be someone else, with age I have found a sense of pride in who I am. I believe my experiences as a Lakota Winyan (woman) are different than that of those who have historically been involved in outdoor recreation and federal conservation employment. However, my ancestral histories provide cultural understanding in the lands and resources departments like the Fish and Wildlife Service aim to protect.
“Many protected federal lands are sacred sites to Native Americans. It is critical that Native peoples are included in the conservation of their ancestral lands.”
Serving as an equal employment opportunity specialist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Jacquelyn Elizarraraz developed a unique perspective regarding diversity and inclusion in the context of natural resource management. Her work creating opportunities for underrepresented groups to learn about and participate in recreation and conservation eventually introduced her to Latino Outdoors. After facilitating a partnership between Latino Outdoors and the BLM California, Jacky began volunteering for the organization, and today serves as a regional coordinator for the Central Valley. She works with six other volunteers to facilitate monthly outings for community members of all backgrounds. As a queer, Latina woman, Jacky has not always felt safe exploring the outdoors with her wife, and has come to understand the importance of representation and normalization of underrepresented groups in public lands/outdoor spaces. Growing up in her life-long home of the California capitol valley, it is her experiences that drive her to continue to pursue her passions within her community.
“I work for a federal agency that historically is not very well known to the public and often left out of the conversation. I see how it works hard to create a diverse workforce while balancing the challenges of working with the need for recreation and conservation. I also volunteer for Latino Outdoors in a region where the population’s primary understanding of working or being outdoors is field work. Growing up, I saw on a daily basis how my family loved the land they worked on. I see how the local high school students work hard to maintain their love for the outdoors, face their daily challenges and still learn from what we offer. As a gay woman, I do not always feel safe going outdoors with my wife, yet I still strive to make sure that others feel welcomed.”
Kevin is the Western Field Associate for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, where he works on a daily basis to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish. He is also active in the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
“My greatest passion is hunting and fishing. Yet I also tend to vote for the left. And I was a vegetarian for years. And for three quarters of my life, I wasn’t a hunter, but rather a trail runner, backpacker, mountain climber, or what some would call a non-consumptive user. I wasn’t raised hunting, but suffer from adult-onset hunting.
“All of this results in a young man who can be quite persuasive and relatable when it comes to hunting and fishing and their place in today’s society from an economic, historical, and conservational standpoint. I’m not your average sportsmen, and I think that’s a good thing when it comes to engaging the 90% of Americans who don’t hunt or fish. I can see where they’re coming from and tell them my story.”
Nancy Fernandez got her start working in public lands through the SCA’s NPS Academy program. After graduating from the Academy in 2015, she served at various national parks throughout Oregon, Washington and Georgia, performing tasks like environmental education, youth mentorship, outdoor leadership and community outreach. Today she serves as the Urban Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Savannah Coastal Refuges Complex. As the only bilingual park ranger for the southeast region, she is working diligently to build new relationships and connect with underserved, nontraditional, communities of color.
One of her main projects is to establish an official Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership. As part of the Service’s Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, she is partnering with various community groups and individuals to educate and install pollinator gardens throughout the surrounding towns.
“My biggest challenge is being the only Hispanic woman of color in my workplace. I don’t have someone near doing the type of work I am. It truly feels like I am a one-woman force, trying to make connections with people and groups that have never been introduced to the flora and fauna in its most pristine state as found in the refuges. Even though I am starting from “scratch” and I feel overwhelmed at times, the passion I have for this type of work is what keeps me moving forward.
“My experience living in various parts of the country working in the conservation field with people of all backgrounds and cultures has really provided a unique insight as to how people in this field do conservation work differently depending on what part of the country they are in and what agency/organization they are representing. Now that I am working with USFWS in the south, I have found myself educating my coworkers as to how to engage with people of color. Sometimes the way to engage these groups is by doing outreach differently. I use non-traditional methods to engage non-traditional groups.”
Interpretation, Education, Volunteer, and Youth Fellow, National Park Service
Paola grew up in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, surrounded by little brown babies and concrete sidewalks with cracks full of life. Growing up as a low-income first generation Xicana in the United States along with her educational background in Society and Environment and Ethnic Studies provides her with a deeper understanding of institutional barriers that prevent communities of color from being able to engage in and reestablish ties with la madre tierra.Her background as a campus organizer along with her work in outdoor education and engagement has focused on captivating and creating lasting relationships with communities. She has been recognized for her work in this field by receiving the North American Association for Environmental Education’s 30 Under 30 Award and hopes to continue in the movement towards self determination for communities without it.
“I do this work understanding that institutional injustices brought on by racism, capitalism, patriarchy, etc., have caused my urban communities to see themselves as separate from nature and to believe the environmental conditions that they live in can never be changed or improved. I do this work because these legacies of colonialism remain in my communities and will remain until we begin to dismantle the institutions that have allowed these conditions to occur. I believe that organizing in communities and doing work with marginalized communities is a step in the right direction toward environmental justice and conservation. What I learn from my community and the struggles they go through on a daily basis teaches me more about the world and my place in the movement to self-determination.”
Grete works within the rural communities of northwest Montana to connect people to the outdoors. After earning her BS in Forestry from Colorado State University, she took a particular interest in the policies that drive public lands management. With MWA, she works with volunteers and partners to engage in collaborative, balanced land-management processes that include conservation values. She is also focused on creating cultural and economic changes in the small towns of northwest Montana by urging them to embrace the outdoor recreation and tourism industry. She enjoys trail running, horseback riding, biking and trying to identify wildflowers along the trail.
“The majority of my work takes place in Caucasian, rural, low-income America. I work in counties that voted for President Trump at 70%, and places that are a hotbed for the public lands transfer movement.
“But I love it here. The people are genuine; they know that they live in a special, beautiful place. I am learning on-the-ground to deal with the challenges that face rural boom-and-bust communities. I am actively working to change feelings about conservation in a town that still looks to extractive industry as its sole economic driver. I am actively working to create a culture of healthy living and connection to the outdoors in towns where it has not been valued in the past. I am learning to listen to the genuine needs of these communities, and to take part in shaping a solution for land management that blends conservation and tourism to diversify small town economies in rural Montana.”
Mateen is currently a wildlife biology technician in the ungulate ecology lab at the University of Montana, where his goal is to estimate elk occupancy outside of Banff National Park strictly through the use of remote cameras. He also leads the student chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers at the University of Montana.
“I am an enrolled tribal member of the Wyandotte Nation. I value my heritage and understand the importance of preserving cultures and traditions, especially natural resources and hunting. I am an engaged wildlife biology student who has immense interest in ecology research. I believe science-based management, traditional natural resource policy (from the Native American perspective), and restoring natural disturbance regimes is how fish, wildlife, and habitat should be managed. Furthermore, I recognize the importance of effective science communication to the public.
“There is a disconnect from scientists and general society that must be bridged if we wish to adapt to our changing world. I fully recognize the role hunting has in conservation both economically and ecologically and believe that the future of conservation is strongly correlated with maintaining and recruiting interest in hunting and angling. I value and cherish our public lands and think any proposal to sell them or compromise their ecological integrity is an attack on who we are as American citizens.”
Austin comes from a background in earth sciences with a B.S. and M.S. in geology. In his current role as a Conservation Associate for the Idaho Conservation League, he advocates for development of public policies that are protective of human health and the environment as well as provide access to open spaces. While he relies heavily on his scientific background when promoting smart, safe, and feasible policies, he also strives to connect people to places as a means to foster a desire to protect and preserve Idaho’s environment. Once people get out and recreate in Idaho’s rivers and open spaces, they become some of the strongest advocates for clean air, clean water, and access to public land. His goal is to turn recreational enjoyment into a passion for policy development, as the two so often go hand-in-hand.
“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is explaining to peers that you don’t have to be perfect or experienced to be successful. What truly matters is that they care. As long as they care, the rest will come. Alleviating the pressure of being perfect is a major relief to a lot of people, and has a lasting effect in their continual involvement on conservation issues.”
Along with her role as the Public Lands Coordinator for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Jessi is the co-founder of Artemis, a new women’s group focused on changing the dialogue and stereotypes placed on the hunting and angling community, and encouraging women to take leadership roles in conservation and wildlife related positions.
“As a ranch kid, hunter, and conservationist, I bring a unique perspective. I grew up in the cattle (and bison) ranching world and understand how to work alongside many private landowners. I am a hunter who is deeply passionate about the landscape and animals and I see no difference between what I believe is the true definition of hunter and conservationist.”
Brittany is currently working on a collaborative project with Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, Groundwork USA, Appalachian Trail, SCA, and National Park Foundation to develop a collaborative model in Washington, DC, to foster meaningful engagement with communities of color regarding National Parks awareness, access, environmental stewardship and career opportunities.
“As an Outdoor Afro Regional Leader, I promote the importance of black leadership.”
Andrew currently manages over 90 TU-affiliated college fishing clubs around the United States, which work with their local TU chapter to accomplish conservation and community outreach goals.
“When I took this job out of college, it was important for me to not only be involved in an industry/hobby I love, but to make a much larger impact on my generation. As the world starts to become more digital, it is easier to become separated from nature and the environmental impacts we are having on our planet. Fly Fishing is such a unique hobby, in that it requires a lot of observation and understanding of nature as well as healthy ecosystems. It allows for its participants to truly immerse themselves in their environment and, through programs such as TU’s angler science program, monitor changes in these ecosystems over time. Armed with this new-found knowledge, anglers will grow not only in their understanding of climate change and industrial impacts on ecosystems, but become more engaged in protecting these resources for future generations.”
Eva coordinates Uplift, which focuses on empowering young adults to take action for climate justice on the Colorado Plateau. Uplift is regionally rooted in the landscapes of the Colorado Plateau and focuses on the need for the fields of conservation and outdoor recreation to prioritize climate change in their work. Eva is also a co-founder of the Students of Color Environmental Collective (SCEC) at UC Berkeley, where she works to increase diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in the environmental movement as well as support people of color engaging in environmentalism.
“In a time of dire environmental and social problems, the climate justice movement brings together issues that affect all kinds of people on different levels. Younger generations and marginalized communities have the most at stake when it comes to impending climate disaster. When it comes to climate change, the future may look really grim, but it is the youth resistance to climate injustice that fills me with hope and inspiration. One of the most powerful things that we can do to build this movement of resistance is to come together, share our stories, and be in community with one another.”
Marshall is Reed Clan from the village of Bacavi on the Hopi Reservation in Northern Arizona. He received a B.A. in Adventure Education from Fort Lewis College in 2014. Since moving back home, he has focused on creating service and recreation opportunities for youth and young adults on the Hopi Reservation. He is currently the Field Coordinator with the Southwest Conservation Corps Ancestral Lands Hopi program, where he coordinates service opportunities for Hopi youth and young adults. In his free time, he is the Program Director of Adventures for Hopi, an adventure education/recreation program designed to get Native youth outside.
“The outdoor industry has a huge economic impact on the United States. Recreation, conservation, and cultural relevancy are the platforms for the creation of self-sustaining employment opportunities for indigenous communities. Indigenous people have the opportunity to pursue viable economic opportunities that do not rely on natural resource exploitation or centralized profit centers through simply utilizing, managing, and determining the direction of culturally relevant, sensitive, and responsible recreation. It is important nationally for the industry to hear our perspectives on inclusion and not just diversify for diversity’s sake.”
Len Necefer is a member of the Navajo Nation and the founder and owner of NativesOutdoors, which shares the photos and stories of indigenous people outdoors and in outdoor recreation. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering and Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University, a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kansas, and is a graduate of the United World College of the American West. His current research interest focus upon the intersection of society, culture, and technical environmental and energy system modeling. In his free time Len is an avid mountaineer, climber, cyclist, and amateur race car driver and mechanic.
“When I got into bouldering, my friends said, ‘Why are you doing that? It’s a white-person thing.’ I started NativesOutdoors to redefine what it means to be outdoors as a native person. Whatever gets you out—hunting, climbing, herb gathering, sheepherding—it’s valid.“
Natrieifia has been working with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) since the summer of 2016. She has been a main contributor to their Register Blog, built and maintained sections of Trail with many volunteers, and engaged with the public, educating about Leave No Trace and best stewardship practices of our natural spaces. She completed her B.S. in Biology at the University of North Carolina Asheville in May 2017, and continues to work with ATC as Lead Coordinator of their Conservation Leadership Corps. In August she is beginning a Recreation Technician Forest Service internship and hopes to branch into wildlife conservation research. She believes that not only should humans incorporate as many diverse viewpoints as possible to conserve and preserve our natural spaces for future generations, but also that individuals should seek diversification in their personal skill sets to solve the most complex issues of our time.
“I’ve faced quite a few barriers when it comes to my pursuit of this field. For a good portion of my life I grew up with part of my family who adhered to internalized stigmas when it came to getting out and exploring nature. Once I came to college and was surrounded by more people that had ideas more closely aligned with my own, I also had to navigate obstacles like actually finding ways to get out and explore, since I didn’t have my own car until last summer. As a woman of color I’ve also experienced first-hand assumptions about how I’ve gained my positions, like people saying that I am where I am due to being a woman and person of color. I’m grateful to all these experiences because they are some of the barriers the conservation and outdoor recreation community are really trying to understand and break down. This first-hand knowledge gives me a unique chance to offer strategies that others may overlook.”
As a Naturalist Educator, Taiji is passionate about getting young people outside to explore and connect with nature in cities. His education philosophy prioritizes first-hand experiences in nature and strong peer/mentor relationships. He works primarily with middle and high school students, studying urban ecosystems and undertaking hands-on restoration projects to improve the health of parks. Through his work, Taiji hopes to share his enthusiasm about nature and science, to connect in-school and out-of-school learning, and to provide support to help kids follow their interests. Originally from rural Pennsylvania, he moved to Pittsburgh in 2006 to study at the University of Pittsburgh (B.A. Environmental Studies). He started working at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy in 2011 coordinating education and volunteer programs. Taiji loves learning and being active outdoors, and spends most of his time hiking, biking, running, and playing volleyball.
“Nature and outdoor recreation, for me, is a huge source of personal and professional fulfillment. Whenever I need to think, relax, celebrate or escape, my first inclination is to go outside. Nature and the outdoors can have a powerful, formative impact on a person’s life, and though I know that nature won’t be everyone’s passion, I want to make sure that kids are exposed to that potential. I see my role as being a mentor who is ready to recognize and foster that spark of interest or enthusiasm about nature.
“Particularly in cities, nature is competing for attention with many other interests and activities. It’s easy to miss the nature around us. I hope that engagement and education will help create a world where people understand our relationship with nature, and make its protection a priority.”
Victoria “V” Ortiz hails from Los Angeles, where she began a lifetime love affair with the outdoors, and burritos. After graduating from UCLA with a B.A. in Geography and Environmental Studies, she evolved from being an outdoor guide and environmental educator to a communications specialist.
Victoria believes that one of the most important ways to promote our planet’s long-term environmental well-being is through targeted and effective outreach to businesses, the public and policy-makers, and collaboration with like-minded entities. She has pursued this mission as a bilingual guide for an academic trek in rural Costa Rica, as the AmeriCorps member for a land trust in rural California, and as the communications liaison for a government agency in Lake Tahoe.
When she’s not working, she’s adventuring–biking 1,800 miles along the U.S. Pacific Coast, backpacking to remote huts in New Zealand, or scuba diving in crystal clear Mexican cenotes.
“The complexity of human relationships with landscape fascinates me. As a bilingual Latina woman who has spent years in the environmental sector both domestically and abroad I’ve learned to listen before I speak. I understand that problems are not just cultural, environmental or economic, but rather a synergy of them all. There is no one culprit or solution, but there are an abundance of stakeholders who are all fighting to protect these incredible outdoor resources.
“I have sat in different seats around this table of conservation, at times representing an avid outdoorswoman, occasionally on behalf of a government agency, and I recognize the value of compromise and relationship-building. I hope to bring a perspective of inclusion to SHIFT. I want to listen to and share stories of our experiences in the outdoors so that ultimately we can work together to conserve our public lands.”
Justin focuses on diversity and inclusion in climbing by introducing communities from the South and West Sides of Chicago to rock climbing.
“I am a young man who was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. As a young African American male and a lover of rock climbing and the outdoors, I have experienced in the lack of diversity in many action sports and outdoor environments. So I’ve made the decision to dedicate my time towards making outdoor environments more accessible for the communities that have raised me. I’ve had the privilege to travel to many wonderful places in my short time on this earth but many of the kids that I grew up with have never had the opportunity to go where I’ve been. So I’ve made it my mission to take people out to places they have never dreamed of, to inspire kids who look like me to show them that they can climb mountains (figuratively and literally) and to show them they can do anything they put their mind to.”
Andrew was born and raised in East Los Angeles County’s San Gabriel Valley. After earning a degree in Environmental Science from Boston University, Andrew wanted to apply what he had learned about urban ecology, planning, and environmental science to improve the San Gabriel Valley. Andrew has studied climate and biology in diverse climates—researching air quality in New Zealand, pollution in London, tropical ecology in Peru & Ecuador, wildlife biology in Alaska, and urban climate models in Boston. He’s especially interested in urban ecology, which involves systematic analyses of living organisms in city environments to understand a city’s metabolism. At Amigos de los Rios, Andrew is a project manager who provides multi-objective green infrastructure park design, project management, weekend event, and accounting support. Andrew works to oversee the implementation of various grants including an Active Transportation Program, Green Infrastructure, Urban Forestry, and Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation.
“I have chosen to do this work because it hits close to home in more ways than one. Not only is it important to fight for environmental justice, but it is particularly important to do this work in underserved communities that I and families member alike call home.”
Krystle is the Director of Programs for Community Nature Connections, a non-profit that focuses on outdoor equity for underserved communities in Los Angeles.
“My community is plagued by freeways, metal recyclers, trucking yards, a landfill, and mechanic shops, all of which have contributed to a high-pollution neighborhood. I also have memories of growing up in a community that was poverty stricken, and where crime and where drugs were (and still are) a burden in almost every household, including my own.
“Although my family was not wealthy, I still had one experience that many did not: camping and visiting parks. I have had the privilege of being born into a family who loves nature. The influence that my father had in my life by taking me and my brothers to our local public parks had a tremendous effect on me: it instilled a deep-rooted connection to the lands I visited. The admiration and comfort that the outdoors has brought me has allowed me to begin the healing process for a lot of trauma. The outdoors has not only provided me a therapeutic outlet, but has allowed me to remain healthy and active.
“My work experience prior to volunteering for Latino Outdoors highlighted the lack of diversity in the outdoors, the lack of inclusivity, and the lack of access to public spaces that communities, such as my own, experience. As an individual who has found her voice in the outdoors, I do this work to help others find theirs.”
Maricela Rosales is an advocate, organizer, and volunteer. As Latino Outdoors’ Los Angeles Coordinator, she connects underserved communities to their local State and National Parks, organizing monthly outings and expanding accessibility to different types of outdoor recreation. She also volunteers for Access Fund in the Los Angeles area, building relationships with the climbing community, public land managers, and the San Gabriel National Monument.
She recently graduated from the San Gabriel Mountains Leadership Academy, which emphasizes civic engagement, community advocacy and project management of supporting local public lands. Upon graduation, she created a community project called “The Abilities Project,” a civic outdoor education access project that connects individuals with disabilities to green and open spaces and emphasizes the importance of engagement in protecting access to the San Gabriel Mountains. She brings her nonprofit experience in leadership development and training from her previous work in community outreach and engagement. Her mission is to create a snowball effect that enhances the experience of all communities.
“Living in an urban setting with no access to green and open spaces, I spent most days nose-deep in National Geographic magazines my dad hoarded at home. I day-dreamed about standing on top of a mountain, looking down at the landscape. I grew up in the heart of Los Angeles with a disability, surrounded by urban concrete. It wasn’t until someone took me outdoors for the very first time that I realized how powerful it is.
“My exposure to rock climbing, hiking and other outdoor activities changed the course of my life for the greater good. And because of my own exposure, I want to connect families, youth, and individuals with disabilities to green and open spaces and to experience different outdoor activities.”
Gerben Scherpbier is the Youth Programming Manager for the Youth Opportunities Program of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Based out of the AMC headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts, he helps to train youth workers and teachers serving urban and low-income communities to take their students on outdoor trips. Gerben also serves on two of AMC’s “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Groups,” and has started a weekly staff lunch to discuss issues of social justice and identity as they pertain to outdoor recreation and environmentalism.
Prior to working at the AMC, Gerben spent three seasons working as a ranger in Yellowstone National Park—two as a crew leader with the Youth Conservation Corps, and one as a protection ranger. Gerben studied earth science and economics at Dartmouth College and served as the president of the Dartmouth Outing Club and the director of their First Year Trips outdoor orientation program.
“One of the greatest challenges I face while working in places like Boston, New Haven, and Worcester is the concept or perception of ‘nature’ or ‘the outdoors.’ Many students I work with see themselves as separate from nature and subscribe to the notion that one must travel great distances to be in the outdoors. I am trying to shift this perception so that students recognize the natural opportunities in their own communities.
“The other great challenge of perception is that of who can be an outdoor or environmental leader. A younger student recently asked me, ‘Gerben, are there black park rangers?’ I think it is extremely important to change the predominant narrative that the outdoors are a white space. I want to help highlight the stories of the many historical and contemporary outdoor and environmental leaders who are black, brown, LGBTQ+, immigrant, differently abled, living in cities, or coming from poorer backgrounds”
Marya Skotte moved to Washington, D.C. from Oakland, California, in the spring of 2016. She graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Political Science and then worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Oakland, California, as a financial coach for refugees and asylees resettling in the Bay Area. She was deeply involved with refugees and other vulnerable populations in Oakland and developed a passion for connecting people with needs to resources and to helping communities.
Currently, Marya is the Coordinator for the Community Partnerships Department at the National Park Foundation. She connects partner organizations of all sizes, backgrounds, and locations to resources, networks, and other partners. Marya believes that innovative partnerships between diverse partners and stakeholders can be instrumental in protecting and promoting our public lands for future generations.
In her free time, Marya enjoys hiking, D.C.’s art scene, and kayaking.
“The greatest challenges we face in creating our collective impact network are the perceptions of competition for resources and opportunities amongst partners. Other challenges include gaining buy-in to the collective impact movement from non-traditional partners and engaging partners across the country who have shared goals, but are operating in silos.
“Many of the challenges that we face on a national level are the same challenges we face on a local level in Anacostia, MD. It can be tense and challenging to bring a cohort of diverse groups into the same room and begin a conversation on shared interests – especially if these groups have never worked together before and may feel they are in competition with each other. I believe that with time, quality community engagement, and inclusiveness, that these challenges can be overcome.”
At the Southwest Conservation Corps’ Ancestral Lands Program, Andrea helps crew members with educational opportunities and resources to be successful during and after the Ancestral Lands program while emphasizing traditional ecological knowledge and language revitalization.
“As an indigenous woman working in the conservation/restoration field for the last 5 years, I have seen our perspective/world view is generally left out and/or romanticized in the southwestern outdoor recreation community. A lot of the spaces folks recreate in have cultural significance for many different tribes and that needs to be acknowledged and respected. As Native people, we often lack the socioeconomic resources to explore our own backyards and access to healthy lifestyles while people come from all over the world to visit our home. I see that there is hope to address these issues and support Native empowerment on every level.”
As manager of the Mojave Trails National Monument, Kyle is the BLM’s youngest monument manager, managing the country’s second-largest national monument (1.6 million acres).
“We are falling into the scary world of dichotomy – a land of I’m right and you are wrong. We are presented with false choices of economic vitality versus preservation, of my preferred use versus yours. National Monuments, and the BLM’s ability to engage a chorus of opposing perspective, provide hope that we live in a society where the ultimate test doesn’t just list true-or-false questions, but instead offer multiple choice and fill in the blank style questions. Management of our public lands relies on all voices having a microphone to speak and ears that are capable of truly listening (not just hearing).”
Bea is a Diversity Consultant at the Maine Environmental Education Association, where she works to connect youth and elders alike in rural settings to promote their own curiosities and connections with self and place.
“I am black and Seneca. I am fat and queer. I was raised by a single working mother in a town of 2,000 where no one else looked like us. I am very familiar with working in white spaces and making my presence not only known, but accepted and respected. I am an unforgettable, unapologetic force.”
Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, home to the largest urban park in the country, Fairmount Park, Ehren Vance is a lifelong outdoor recreationist. He studied Public Administration and Community Development at Howard University in Washington, DC, and now spends much of his leisure time in the parklands and green spaces of the D.C. Metro Area hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and kayaking.
Aware of the prosperity provided by public lands, and of the various cultural stigmas and barriers to access that inform underrepresentation within the field, Ehren works to expose underserved communities to the mental, physical, social, and spiritual development afforded by public parks and outdoor recreation. Currently, Ehren assists the National Parks Conservation Association in its effort to engage minority and millennial communities and develop future stewards of the National Parks Service as a member of its Next Generation Advisory Council and is particularly interested in exploring the intersection of conservation and preservation organizations and CDCs.
“I have always been a fan of the outdoors and understand the responsibility humans have to maintain its homeostasis. However, throughout my life it has been abundantly clear that there is, generally, a disconnect between conservation and environmentalism and my fellow African-Americans. I recognize that there are very legitimate barriers and stigmas that inform this dissociation, but also understand that successful environmental stewardship requires a universal “buy-in”, as reflected by recent discussion of the President’s regrettable decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. I am committed to bringing the black community, and all underrepresented communities, back into the fold.”
Gabe is the southern New Mexico Coordinator for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, where he leads advocacy and policy campaigns centered around the conservation of some of southern New Mexico’s most wild and culturally beautiful places. He also works as the New Mexico Coordinator for Latino Outdoors, where he leads groups of Hispanic and underserved youth out to public lands to participate in a variety of recreational activities.
“Outdoor recreation—both in industry, access, and cultural practice—is a white-dominated space. I think we can all agree on that. But our strength in ownership of public lands and conservation—as Hispanic and Latino people in the United States, particularly in the west—is our cultural ties to the land. As American Mestizos, we own a dual culture that one could argue can be traced back to the pre-historic days of the Jornada Mogollon. Our culture lives and breathes on these lands, and others can’t say that. That’s why we need to own that first, and then get out on our land to recreate, to explore, and to conserve.”
Rob is a conservationist, a climber, and a veteran. Rob currently leads the Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program, which connects 14,000 service members, veterans, and their families to the outdoors each year through outings and outdoor leadership training. He recently relocated to Washington, DC, in hopes of fostering a new generation of environmental stewards by providing veterans with the proper tools and knowledge to leverage their unique voice in defense of America’s public lands. Prior to that, Rob served five years in the Army as an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division, during which time he deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon returning home, Rob moved to California, where he used the state’s many wild landscapes and a close-knit community of fellow veterans to cope with struggles with PTS and adjustment into society. In his spare time, Rob enjoys explaining that, despite his height, he doesn’t play basketball.
“As a veteran who is also a conservationist, my goal is to bridge the gap between both communities. In my experience, it can be challenging to engage both groups in order to bring them together in the fight to protect public lands: both parties can be hesitant to interact with each other and don’t see the history and synergy between the two communities. In recruiting for trips, it takes some persuading to get veterans or members of the military excited to participate in a Sierra Club event. Likewise, I have been challenged on several occasions by Sierra Club volunteers who are hesitant to work with the military community.”
The call of the wild is very real. For Aaron, it was but a smoldering ember which only glowed through his curiosity for the natural world. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, camping was not part of the family agenda but exploring the local preserves on his own was a near daily ritual. It wasn’t until after serving in the Marines that Aaron acknowledged his passion for nature through the healing abilities wilderness is known for. Aaron has been on a mission to share the rewards of a meaningful connection to nature with others, especially the nature deficient, for several years now. Most recently, Aaron has been designing and implementing wilderness therapy programs for at-risk youth and veterans as well as leveraging the challenges of the backcountry to educate groups and strengthen teams. Adventures Accessed is like NOLS, The Nature Conservancy and a hippy commune had a kid.
“I chose this path because nature has been an outlet for me. It has helped me find myself and be myself. When I came home from the Marines in 2008 I had a rough transition. I made a quick pivot from fire-team leader in Iraq to freshmen in college and the adjustment was not smooth. I was alone and dealt with issues like many veterans do: I’d wash them down with alcohol. As I made my way through college and the civilian workforce I felt successful but never felt in place or at peace. I suffered panic attacks at work from artificial stress and would retreat to the national parks and national forests to decompress. It was a natural calling – to see the trees, hear the birds and breath the life of the forest which truthfully rejuvenates me.”
Aisha is the Founder and Executive Director of the No Man’s Land Film Festival, an all-female adventure film festival that works with like-minded organizations to encourage women and girls to get into the outdoors in an inspired and informed manner.
“I am constantly struggling to find my own voice. I share my voice and vision through the films presented, guest speakers and organizations involved, yet I am realizing the power that my voice holds and I want to wield this power with care and with precision. I created this platform for other women to share their experiences, and I believe that in harnessing my own voice I will be able to better serve theirs.”
Groundwork Cincinnati’s programs engage youth in community-driven green improvements, and span recreation, education, and employment.
“I believe that the front lines of conservation are in urban areas. Connecting residents (especially youth) to their environment brings ownership, sense of place, and an eagerness to explore. This connection affects their world view. We use green jobs, recreation, and education to invest in people and create change agents. As a person of color who came up in the environmental science and outdoor recreation industry, I’m excited to spread an ethic of conservation through mechanisms like outdoor recreation.”