Closing the Nature Gap

85% of Americans today live in urban areas. In cities across the country, parks, trails, and open spaces enhance property values, increase tax revenues, attract homebuyers and knowledge workers, and boost economic development. At a time when the average American child spends seven hours per day in front of screens and seven minutes in unstructured play outside, and rising childhood obesity rates adds billions of dollars to health care costs, public lands also improve the mental and physical health of American citizens. Open spaces in urban areas are key to the future of our public lands, for without that initial introduction to nature and its benefits, the next generation of Americans will never become invested in their health and wellbeing.

This track focuses on the value of public land investments where most Americans live: in urban areas.

Panels are designed to frame up the topics under consideration with topic experts. Following the panels, panelists and audiences break into small groups that employ the World Cafe format to facilitate dynamic interaction and networking among participants and crowdsource solutions to challenges identified by the panelists.

Specific panels include:

Gyms to Crags: A Next-Gen Pipeline

Room: Timberline 1

Presented by Adidas Outdoor

Climbing gyms in cities around America have created one of the most robust “pipelines” outdoor recreation has ever seen. As millennials flock to them in growing numbers, both opportunities and challenges arise. How do we insure these potential stewards transition outside, that the ways they recreate are informed by a conservation ethic—and that their experiences translate to jobs in the outdoor industry? 

Moderator: Justin Forrest Parks, Logistics Assistant, Chicago Cares (2017 Emerging Leader)


  • Shelma Jun, Founder, Flash Foxy (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • Maricela Rosales, Los Angeles Coordinator, Latino Outdoors; Volunteer, Access Fund (2017 Emerging Leader)
  • Mikhail Martin, Co-Founder, Brothers of Climbing (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • Lance Pinn, Founder and President, Brooklyn Boulders
  • James Mills, journalist

Green Jobs, Urban Playgrounds: Connecting Employment and Conservation in Nontraditional Communities

Teton Room

Presented by The Nature Conservancy

The first step to protecting a place is falling in love with it—but for many Americans, “recreation” is a luxury that, due to various constraints, they simply don’t have. This panel looks at the ways innovative organizations are bridging the nature gap, addressing infrastructural backlogs in federal land management agencies, teaching vocational skills and broadening future employment possibilities by introducing urban millennials to jobs in conservation and recreation.

Moderator: Charles Thomas, Executive Director, Outward Bound Adventures


  • Tanner Yess, Program Manager, Groundwork Cincinatti (2017 Emerging Leader)
  • Connie Spreen, Blackwork Bicycles (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • Loretta Pineda, Executive Director, Environmental Learning for Kids (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • James Ezeilo, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Development, Greening Youth Foundation

Bridging the Backcountry Divide: How Hunting and Fishing Organizations are Connecting Urban Americans to Public Lands

Grand Room

Presented by National Wildlife Foundation

In cities—home to most Americans, and thus to the majority of constituents for US Senators and Representatives—the concept of “public lands” can be abstract. Hunters and anglers are our greatest advocates for public lands, in part because of the fees they pay for licenses and equipment, which generated $1.1B for critical state environmental conservation and recreation projects in 2016 alone.

Problematically, the hunting and angling communities are overwhelmingly Caucasian at a time when the country is becoming a minority majority country—and are primarily the pursuits of rural America at a time when most Americans live in urban areas. One direct result: hunting expenditures—and associated excise taxes—declined 29% over the past five years.

This panel explores how organizations are connecting urban residents to public land issues by engaging them in hunting and fishing, how this engagement is making hunting and angling more relevant to communities of color, and how the results can help influence the votes of our elected officials and fund conservation and recreation projects throughout the nation.

Moderator: Jessi Johnson, Co-Founder, Artemis (2017 Emerging Leader)


  • Brett Prettyman, Intermountain Communications Director, Trout Unlimited
  • Land Tawney, Executive Director, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • Rachel Piacenza, Director of Marketing, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Vamos a Pescar (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • Eric Dinger, Founder, Powderhook (2017 SHIFT Award Official Selection)
  • Scott Gilmore, Manager, Denver Parks and Recreation

Rocket Fuel