SHIFT Retreat Meeting Summary


John Gale, Rob Terry and Christian Beckwith at the SHIFT Retreat on May 20. The retreat focused on the ways outdoor recreation can help keep America’s public lands public, healthy, and relevant to all Americans. This and all photos: Ben Johnson

On May 19-20, a small group convened at the Murie Center to discuss recreation, conservation, and next-generation engagement. The meeting was an opportunity to explore common threats to America’s public lands and the ways SHIFT could help address them.

The group’s conversation built on the 2014 and 2015 SHIFT Summits, as well as the foundation provided by the Principles for Advancing Outdoor Recreation and Conservation. In early 2016, interviews were conducted with senior-level individuals from the public land management, outdoor recreation, youth engagement, and conservation communities who had attended SHIFT in 2015. The interviews identified core topics relevant to assuring that a diversity of public lands and waters remain available to the public, including new and more diverse constituencies. Some topics that emerged from the interviews include: the public land transfer; funding for public lands; and next-generation engagement and cultural relevance of the outdoors.

Specific objectives for the retreat were to:

  • Refine a collective understanding of the challenges facing public lands;
  • Define how SHIFT can add value to and advance the development of a movement in support of public lands, recreation, conservation, and next-generation engagement; and
  • Discuss broader strategies for aligning for action.

Major Points of Discussion

The initial conversation focused on defining the sideboards of SHIFT and of the retreat. To support this process, the group articulated how SHIFT is unique amongst related efforts affecting recreation, conservation and public lands.

SHIFT’s Niche

Below are a few characteristics of SHIFT that define what makes it unique.

SHIFT’s substantive focus exists at the intersection of recreation, conservation and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Participants reflected that while a number of initiatives focus on recreation and conservation (e.g., campaigns for responsible recreation), and others are focused on ­­recreation and diversity, equity and inclusion (getting the next generation, and particularly urban communities and people of color, outdoors), very few bring all these conversations together. One participant described SHIFT’s role as code switching (i.e., switching between two or more languages in a single conversation). In this context, SHIFT offers a meaningful opportunity for engagement across groups working on related issues, such as public lands and outdoor access. At the intersection of the three sectors is connecting people and place—a recognition that at its core, these groups are united by the need for access to public, outdoor places.

Connection to media and the outdoor industry

SHIFT’s value is amplified because it brings two unique audiences to the conversation:

  • Media: by engaging the media, including traditional and digital sources, SHIFT has the power to amplify the messages and outcomes from the conversation. A big theme from the retreat was storytelling—the media is uniquely positioned to support the type of effective storytelling that will advance good work at the nexus of recreation, diversity, equity, inclusion, and conservation.
  • Outdoor Industry: it is unique to effectively engage private-sector businesses in these conversations. One participant reflected that SHIFT adds value by providing outdoor businesses a straightforward opportunity to contribute to meaningful causes.

Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin at the SHIFT Retreat.

Unifying a movement

In bringing together existing initiatives, groups, and networks, SHIFT promotes greater information sharing and improved coordination. SHIFT is not well positioned as a problem-solving venue (other spaces may be more effective there). However, the capacity to bring together existing networks (see code shifting above) is unique and valuable. SHIFT can convene as a coalition of other coalitions, resulting in a more unified movement for our public lands, including bringing together groups that don’t often find themselves in the same room. Several people cautioned that if SHIFT ventures into the problem-solving space, there is a risk of “stepping on the toes” of those already working on these issues. Rather than trying to catalyze specific (new) activities in this space, it can add more value by bringing together and amplifying existing efforts. SHIFT should ask (and attempt to answer) the question: How do we build a movement?

Clearinghouse and knowledge broker

Related to the convening capacity, SHIFT can act as a central clearinghouse or knowledge broker for best practices happening at the intersection of recreation, conservation, and next-generation engagement. SHIFT could add value on specific issues—such as the public land seizure movement—by serving as a central place to share and compare how others are working on similar issues. The idea of asset mapping—identifying who is doing what and what gaps still exist—came up in this context.

Grounded in the local

While SHIFT addresses topics at the national scale, it should continue to be grounded in the local. This focus was highlighted in SHIFT in 2015 during the “Marketplace” sessions, when various initiatives, including many local-scale ones, were featured and given a platform to share experiences and lessons learned and celebrate successes. SHIFT can and should continue to amplify the voices of success (e.g., Groundwork-Wallkill Connection’s urban riparian restoration project). Another specific idea was for the SHIFT to hold regional breakout groups that can develop action plans specific to their geography. As well, SHIFTx—the idea of regional or satellite SHIFT events—continues to be an area ripe for further development.

Celebrating successes

SHIFT is fun. The evening programs (speakers, films, happy hours, dinners) and general feel of the event is celebratory. It is a forum for celebrating what we have in common.


Courtney Aber, Director of the YMCA’s BOLD/GOLD Program, addresses participants while Backcountry Hunters and Anglers’ John Gale listens.

Other discussion on SHIFT’s niche

Several other key themes or discussion points came up as part of the discussion of SHIFT’s niche. These include:

  • Expand the conversation beyond the large, expansive public lands found in the West. If the definition of “public lands” is broad enough to include public parks in or near urban areas, SHIFT can bring together groups that don’t often talk—such as those working on urban issues and those more focused on traditional large-landscape conservation/recreation issues.
  • Holding the event in Jackson, Wyoming, is challenging because of the additional travel expenses. For smaller non-profit organizations and those that work directly with diverse populations in urban areas (often on limited budgets), this is particularly problematic. SHIFT can and should explore opportunities to take the event to other locations—particularly if a focus is engaging diverse, urban youth.

Substantive topics

Over the course of the two days, participants discussed some of the potential topics for SHIFT. Participants discussed six topics in small groups, the outcomes from which are captured in detail below. For each of these topics, the following summary captures 1) major considerations and framing the issue and 2) specific suggestions for SHIFT (sessions, speakers, etc.). Some groups framed their specific suggestions for SHIFT around verbs beginning with “s”—such as shake or stir, for controversial topics; spark, for new innovative ideas; and share, for ideas worth spreading.

Economics and Funding

General points

  • There is a need for a conversation on funding for advocacy (conservation, recreation, youth engagement, etc.). SHIFT could consider holding an event to improve communication between philanthropic donors and others. The small group did not spend time on this topic, opting to focus primarily on funding (i.e., economic benefits, funding challenges) as it relates to public lands
  • On the economic value of public lands, several recent studies have come out that articulate the value of public lands, including:

The issue of long-term sustainable funding for public lands is another core issue the group considered. This included both public funding (e.g., the Land and Water Conservation Fund, agency funding), but also innovative or potential funding sources, such as user fees or corporate support. It was noted that SHIFT can call out the impacts of underfunding land agencies and develop strategies for combatting that. It was furthermore noted that SHIFT should articulate what recreation and conservation can do in concert.

Suggestions for SHIFT

  • Shake: Have a panel or discussion to develop and explore big new (and in some cases controversial) ideas for funding. The discussion could use examples from hunting and fishing or states to further explore. This could include:
    • Pay to play (e.g., have a representative from Trout Unlimited or Ducks Unlimited talk about conservation stamps)
    • Taxes
    • Local sources, such as state referendums (e.g. Washington State’s No Child Left Inside; GoCo model in Colorado that uses lottery funds)
    • Voluntary donation (similar to Bass Pro Shops, which ask customers to contribute to a non-profit group)
  • Stir: Understanding the existing information on the outdoor recreation economy. A session could explore the existing studies (including why they sometimes come to different conclusions), and discuss communicating this information.
  • Share: A discussion on the value of public lands, including the return on investments in public lands, and other tools for making the case for public land. This could include non-economic benefits as well.
  • Spark: Related to next-generation engagement and jobs: a session could focus on moving past volunteer/youth corps positions to longer-term career pathways
  • Share: A conversation could bring in local government and companies (tech sector, for example) to discuss how quality of life improvements associated with recreation and conservation attract high-quality employers and improve local economies (e.g. Duluth, MN; Boise, ID).

Public Land Transfer

General points:

  • There was a concern that the topic of the public land seizure movement might be too narrow to work as a major theme at SHIFT. It was suggested instead that it could fit into a larger conversations of keeping public lands, water, and wildlife public, healthy and accessible.
  • One specific consideration for SHIFT is the potential for the land seizure movement to spark collaboration and partnerships amongst new groups, actually strengthening the stewardship ethic amongst groups that may not have previously been engaged
  • In the spirit of code switching, SHIFT can help articulate how the public land seizure is an issue relevant to conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • SHIFT should put together panels and sessions that are edgy, with differences of opinion, e.g., include a proponent of the public land seizure movement.

Suggestions for SHIFT

  • Share: Speakers could tell success stories of innovative, inclusive, collaborative, and effective public land management.
  • Share: Describe the benefits of public lands (economic, ecological, and social).
  • Stir: Challenge society to better appreciate and manage our public lands (e.g., it’s not all good in the neighborhood). Specifically:
    • Discuss how to better fund management of and access to public lands (priority topic).
    • Incorporate native voices (e.g., Bears Ears; Rio Grande del Norte, NM).
    • Include urban lands (e.g. brownfield restoration, LWCF).
    • Ensure science informs decisions.
  • Spark: Inspire action and connections to the land. Specifically:
    • Build broad coalitions to enjoy and protect public lands.
    • Inspire more Americans of all walks of life to have a personal relationship with the outdoors.
    • Promote collaborative management.
    • Tell stories about how organizations such as the Outdoor Alliance, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers are using the land heist threat to engage members and supporters more effectively

Next generation engagement and cultural relevance

General points:

  • Many conferences are focused on working professionals and can be hard for young people to engage. SHIFT should try to bridge that barrier.
  • Specific barriers to youth participation include:
    • Lack of resources by the organizations that engage young people (e.g, Student Conservation Association)
    • Young people don’t know how to break into the opportunities
  • For young people, financial resources are a challenge. Make sure SHIFT is worth the investment by making sure they’re heard. Give young people the space to speak openly and create something unique
  • Showcase some of the outcomes and successes of past SHIFTs (e.g., the formation of Seattle Latino Outdoors as a result of networking at SHIFT; High Country News’ retention of Trail Posse was inspired by, at SHIFT)
  • Youth often have a personal connection to the outdoors. Storytelling that captures that connection can be an effective means for them to engage in the discussion.
  • Tapping into the next generation of millennials is key to DEI, because millennials are the most historically diverse generation in America. Climate change is a key engagement point for millennials that allows for more inclusive discussions because it involves all of us
  • It’s best to talk about the impacts climate change is having without talking about climate change. For example, instead, talk about impacts to habitat
  • Find value in what nontraditional resources (e.g., Latino Outdoors’ focus on family as a gateway to outdoor rec) bring to the conversation. Doing so creates buy-in and inclusion from groups not typically part of the conversation
  • It is important to communicate to the conservation community the cultural background of communities as they relate to the outdoors, since that is a story that isn’t as well known.
  • Gap: There is no universal language around conservation and recreation. Different communities require different language
  • Young leaders might have been prepped to facilitate SHIFT 2015, but “adults” might not have been ready for them.
  • DEI is a nut hunting and angling hasn’t cracked. “It’s awkward for our community to think of. It would be a good opportunity for our community” to learn more about it
  • Don’t call it DEI, because hunting and angling communities don’t know what that is. Call it “cultural relevancy”

Suggestions for SHIFT

  • Bring together different models represented by different youth-engagement organizations
  • Expand on last year’s work. Be explicit about how SHIFT is expanding and building on past successes.
  • Create a safe place for next-gen to be heard and to listen
  • Prepare adult participants to listen to emerging leaders in advance
  • Create a “fishbowl”: where youth have a conversation amongst themselves, while leadership listens
  • Create peer-to-peer network for next-gen participants
  • Customize next-generation engagement and cultural relevancy section specifically for hunting and fishing. Where do they start? Where do they go for continued support? Where do they go for resources?
  • Reengagement: create professional development opportunity for young staff members of NGOs
  • Deliver:
  • Stoke: storytelling that blows up stereotypes
  • Share: Sharing best practices
  • Workshopping: everyone shows up with successes, challenges, so you leave with a workplan for the next six months, or next year


General points:

  • The group acknowledged that the topic of communications may be more of a tool (how you deliver content) rather than a substantive topic. However, since media and communication has been identified as an important part of SHIFT, it was discussed in details in small groups.
  • The group discussed communications and media, but also the idea of SHIFT unifying the movement.


Suggestions for SHIFT

  • Share: ideas for cross cultural communication, examples from the field, untold stories. This can include tools for telling these stories to broader audiences.
  • Skills: working with the media, effective formats, storytelling. This could be a workshop to refine specific skills around specific topics
  • Share: Identify opportunities for common messaging, such as around the value of public lands, the importance of diversity, economics, etc.
    • One specific idea was a campaign that uses the same format to communicate the public lands message:

Public lands are for _______

Public lands are for (hunting/fishing, picnicking, rock climbing)

Public lands are for me.

I am for public lands

  • Spark: Have a conversation about reaching diverse media outlets (e.g. Spanish/English language television). We could incorporate media or PR firms who have worked with companies such as P&G or Campbells who have successfully marketed cross-culturally.
  • Shake: visualizations could be useful in sparking conversation on key topics, such as:
    • Asset mapping and gap analysis. Something like Kumu could be used to visualize the current SHIFT network, but also to identify areas that are beyond the current reach
    • A word mapping tool could be used to reflect on how major media or SHIFT uses language. Similarly, a media collage could analyze unconscious bias in advertising and story telling.
  • Storytelling: Two very specific ideas emerged for story telling:
    • The connection between urban and wilderness. A video or visual could connect a small stream in an urban area being restored by a citizens’ group to the wild and expansive landscapes beyond the urban boundaries.
    • A photo booth could allow people to share stories of how they use their public lands or why these issues are important

Conservation and Outdoor Recreation

General points

  • Define recreation broadly, not just gear-intensive, expensive adventure sports; consider “opportunities for outdoor experience” rather than “recreation”.
  • Emphasize that these are personally powerful experiences, not just ways to “kill time”.


Suggestions for SHIFT

  • Focus on the pipeline from outdoor recreation to a stewardship ethic and action—and not just to traditional conservation, but to a broadly defined community and sustainability ethic.
    • Presenters on research into what outdoor experiences lead to an “ah-ha” moment or transformative experience, or what elements facilitate a stewardship ethic.
    • Discuss adventure or outdoor work or gardening vs. a managed, sanitized experience.
  • Provide opportunities for people to share and record their personal “ah-ha” experience: “In Search of the Ah-Ha Moment”….
  • Showcase programs (e.g., YMCA, Nature Bridge, NOLS) that create more outdoor experiences for more people.
  • Convene sessions in which conservationists who are skeptical of outdoor recreation and those who are not explain and debate their perspectives.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

General points

  • Many communities of color have a much more complex and sometimes painful history with public lands. There is a need for a space to grieve and heal past wounds.
  • For the future of our public lands, diversity, equity, inclusion efforts need to recruit the next generation, but also retain the ones we have and reengage ones we’ve lost along the way.


Suggestions for SHIFT

  • SHIFT can help organizations define why DEI is important to their organization and the future of the movement. Participants offered examples of how organizations—including the outdoor industry, conservation organizations, and the hunting and fishing communities—understand the importance of becoming more diverse, reflecting the changing demographics in this country. However, these organizations often struggle with how to implement those changes. SHIFT could add value as a forum for sharing practical stories.
  • It is important that this topic is handled with respect. The discussion at SHIFT must avoid being paternalistic; avoid being contrived; and avoid tokenism. Listening is an important tool to achieving these goals.
  • SHIFT can establish some foundational pieces and definitions related to this work, such as defining diversity, equity, and inclusion in this context. It could explore what about our current language is not inclusive and what can we learn from more diverse communities.
  • Storytelling is an important tool.
  • Frame it strategically to appeal to broader audiences. One suggestion was to call it cultural relevancy, rather than diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Emphasize the value of diversity. Looking different can’t be an outcome; becoming different is an outcome

Other topics

Some other topics discussed over the course of the SHIFT retreat include:

  • Climate justice is an important topic to the next generation. The public lands are going to change as a result of climate change; consider how to leverage this as a meaningful area of mutual interest. For recreation and conservation communities, the concerns associated with climate change may focus primarily on losing important places. Climate justice brings in different concerns—such as those tied to equity, livelihoods, and social justice.
  • SHIFT should focus on issues that are not cyclical—the big, sustaining challenges, e.g., demographic shift and climate change
  • Technology: using apps for citizen stewardship, reporting trail conditions but also coordinating volunteers to address problems.


Throughout the retreat, participants provided input on who needs to be involved in SHIFT, identified challenges with participation, and provided specific suggestions for speakers, presenters, and participants. The major points were captured here. Specific suggestions for organizations to reach out to are not included in this summary (available upon request), but have been passed on to the SHIFT organizers.


Diverse voices and indigenous people

  • SHIFT needs to engage indigenous people in these conversations.
  • The Bear’s Ears Initiative in the Grand Canyon is a compelling story that could be included in SHIFT.
  • There is a need to carefully consider terminology and potentially reframe the conversation. Terms like “conservation” and “recreation” may not resonate with native people.
  • The space needs to be ready to accommodate minority voices and structured in a way that provides a safe place for effective and meaningful conversation.
  • Recognize the diversity of diversity (diversity of Native American tribes, people of color, etc.)
  • Consider opportunities for engaging the local Jackson minority communities, specifically Latinos and Native Americans.

Young people

  • Funding is required for youth participation.

Hunting and fishing

  • Engage hunting and fishing communities, and the outdoor industry associated with them
  • Sometimes hunters and anglers feel they’re the only ones contributing to the protection of fish and wildlife
  • Showcase ways outdoor rec community contribute to the hunting and angling communities
  • Acknowledge that we’re working in a complementary fashion toward the same goals
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion, cultural relevance are important engagement points
  • Provide opportunities for hunting and angling community to learn where to start, how to navigate, where to go for resources

Conservation organizations

  • The Nature Conservancy

Presenters and speakers

Suggestions for presenters and speakers include:

  • David Brooks
  • Dorceta Taylor
  • Jorge Ramos
  • Van Jones
  • Maria Hinojosa
  • Sheldon Johnson
  • Goldman Prize Winners
  • McArthur Fellows
  • Grist writers
  • Outdoor Industry Association’s 30 under 30
  • Richard Louv
  • Ken Salazar


SHIFT format

In small groups, participants provided feedback and suggestions for ideas for potential implementation at SHIFT.


  • The October SHIFT meeting could be the “mother” SHIFT and serve as a space to share information about regional and local efforts, including SHIFTx
  • Engage the emerging leaders as a catalyst for SHIFTx
  • Make SHIFTx a platform, but keep it flexible. Emerging leaders (supported by local leaders) should be empowered to customize as needed.


  • For youth participation, leverage partners organizations to offset costs (e.g. Groundwork Dallas may be able to support tickets via Southwest Air to Denver, and then young adults could bus from there on Groundwork Denver buses)
  • Charge for the emerging leader program, but use scholarships to raise funds to offset costs for those in need

Experienced Leaders (Executive Retreat)

  • Convene the executive retreat at the end of SHIFT
  • The focus of the retreat would be institutional shifts necessary at the intersection of outdoor experience, conservation, and cultural relevancy
  • Bring together agencies, including federal and state government, the major environmental organizations, nonprofits, outdoor recreation, and other thought leaders, innovators, and risk takers
  • The retreat requires the right issues. Cultural relevancy, corporate sustainability, and partnerships are some potential topics.

Emerging Leaders

  • Use the Emerging Leaders Program immediately preceding SHIFT to prep participants for engagement
  • Redirect young leaders prepared by orgs like SCA, 21csc for career readiness and placement in agency jobs to opportunities in the outdoor rec industry
  • Make SHIFT about “where the leaders of today meet the leaders of tomorrow,” i.e., develop programming that connects emerging leaders with established leadership across industries
  • Use the Collective Impact Model to bring together groups already working on these issues, such as SCA, 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, and SHIFT
  • Make 2016 incubator year
  • Use open-space technology to let emerging leaders develop platform
  • Focus on peer-to-peer network building, storytelling, career readiness and placement
  • Post SHIFT, export resulting framework to SHIFTx events around the country. Empower young leaders to host SHIFTx in their communities, using the resources at their disposal to bring value, definition
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service may be interested in funding
  • Tap into the Outdoor Industry Association’s 30 under 30
  • At SHIFT, make space for storytelling and listening. The Fishbowl technique may be helpful
  • Other important opportunities at SHIFT include:
    • Mentorship
    • Developing advocates
    • Skills building
    • Building networks


Participants at the 2016 SHIFT Spring Retreat were are as follows:

Federal Land Management

  • Meryl Harrel, Senior Advisor, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Linda Merigliano, Recreation, Wilderness and Trails Program Manager, Jackson District, Bridger-Teton National Forest
  • Bob Ratcliffe, Director, Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Program, National Park Service
  • Mike Schlafmann, Public Services Staff Officer, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, U.S Forest Service

Outdoor Recreation

  • Luther Propst, Chair, The Outdoor Alliance
  • John Gale, Conservation Director, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers

Youth Engagement, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

  • Courtney Aber, Director, YMCA’s BOLD/GOLD program
  • Curt Collier, National Youth Programs Director, Groundwork USA
  • Jose Gonzalez, Founder, Latino Outdoors
  • Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, Principal, The Avarna Group
  • Rob Terry, National Director of Program Operations, Student Conservation Association


  • Marcia Kunstel, Board, The Wilderness Society
  • Brooke Larsen, Co-Founder, UpLift
  • Matt Kirby, Senior Campaign Representative, Our Wild America, The Sierra Club


  • Ryan Dunfee, Managing Editor, Teton Gravity Research
  • Yoon Kim, Director, Outdoor Blogger Summit (via phone)
  • Paul Larmer, Executive Director and Publisher, High Country News



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