SHIFT Explores Ways to Get More Jackson Hole Latinos Outdoors

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Participants gather to discuss ways to engage Jackson Hole Latinos in the outdoors on Th., Sept. 8. Photo: Ben Johnson

At least 25% of Teton County’s population is Latino.

You’d be forgiven for missing that key point of Jackson Hole’s demographic if your sample size was limited to its (predominantly Caucasian) trail users.

“The wellbeing of our natural resources depends on a broad cross-section of support,” said Christian Beckwith, SHIFT’s director. “Outdoor rec is the best way to connect people with places, which is the first step to falling in love with them.”

“If the people getting outside don’t reflect a community, the community’s support for the places in which they play won’t be broad enough to protect them.”

On Thursday, September 8, SHIFT gathered nearly two dozen representatives from local land management, recreation, conservation, and community organizations to discuss ways to address the “adventure gap” in the Jackson Hole Latino community.

The gathering was the third iteration of the SHIFTx Stakeholder Discussions, an extension of the SHIFT Festival that seeks to export its stakeholder coalition model to outdoor recreation / conservation issues outside Jackson Hole.

Moderated by Alfonso Orozco, Wyoming Coordinator for Latino Outdoors, the discussion sought to share efforts currently underway to engage the local Latino community in outdoor recreation—and, by extension, conservation; identify opportunities for collaboration; and increase overall Latino participation in the activities that comprise a bedrock of the Jackson Hole lifestyle.

Like many resort towns in the Mountain West, Jackson is home to a growing population of Latino families. Many of these families lack the time, money, or resources to spend time outdoors.

The Sept. 8 discussion identified a need to consolidate and communicate outdoor recreational opportunities to the Latino community using a widely supported digital platform like Facebook. The platform needs to be overseen by a paid staff person and complemented by regular get-togethers.

For Dan Smitherman at the Wilderness Society, the local issue of Latino involvement in the outdoors is connected to the future of our public lands. Both require broad engagement in our natural resources.

“It doesn’t do us any good to conserve all this land if it’s not universally used,” said Smitherman, speaking to a breakout group of conservation representatives within the community.

This sentiment was echoed by participants throughout the discussion, who spoke of changing demographics, a burgeoning Jackson Hole Latino community, and a pivotal moment for engagement and representation.

“We need to recruit a workforce that represents who we’re serving,” noted Dale Dieter, District Ranger for the Bridger-Teton National Forest.

For Jorge Moreno, a community leader with One22 who first moved to Jackson from Mexico in 1996, the solution lies in creating a core group of ”movers and shakers” in the Latino community who know the needs of the people around them intimately, and working with them to engage fellow Latinos.

Moreno also identified the need to frame a connection with the outdoors in a way that fits the Latino culture.

“If I talk to you about plumbing, and you don’t know about plumbing, it won’t connect with you whether [I’m speaking in] English or Spanish,” he said.

For Jackson Hole recreationists, challenges lie in the barriers to entry for advanced participation.

Organizations like the Jackson Hole Kayak Club and Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Club offer introductory programs to reach Latino youth, but their sports get progressively more expensive as competitions become more frequent and gear more specialized.

In addition, traditional sports like soccer are more accessible and already engrained in the community.

As Aaron Pruzan of the Jackson Hole Kayak Club noted, early exposure builds habit.

“If you get people involved at a young age, loving the activity, loving the resources, they are going to care about these places,” said Pruzan.

Thursday’s discussion wasn’t expected to solve any issues overnight, but numerous participants echoed the value of being in the room with partners who shared interest in engaging the community. Participants lingered well after the official conclusion of the gathering, exchanging cards and talking excitedly with partners about future opportunities for collaboration. “The participants all came to the conclusion that communication needs to be improved when reaching out to the Latino community as well as between organizations,” said Orozco. “The key to being able to accomplish this is the human element.”


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