Billed as “the world’s largest environmental movement,” Earth Day has been celebrated every April 22 since 1970, when it was conceived by Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-W.I.), Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.) and activist Denis Hayes as a way to mobilize college students to protest for the environment in the wake of Rachel Carson’s consciousness-raising environmental best-seller, Silent Spring. Over 50 years later, as we reflect vividly on our recent experiences living through a global pandemic that rendered many of our beloved indoor activities, spaces and community gatherings unsafe, the preservation of the planet and its outdoor resources seems as important and as precarious as ever.
But scarcity in access to safe outdoor spaces and pursuits does not fall equally. Researchers from Penn State who asked, “How Has the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Outdoor Recreation in America?,” found a 20 percent increase in outdoor recreation among people who were new to such pursuits during the pandemic. This is good news. Yet, the researchers found that many of these people were white and relatively economically privileged.
People from minority populations who did participate in outdoor recreation or environmental activism often found themselves subjected to discrimination and violence, such as the well-publicized incident in Central Park when Black and queer birder Christian Cooper was threatened by a white woman at the height of the pandemic in 2020, or, more recently in October 2022, when 9-year-old budding environmentalist, Bobbi Wilson, who is Black, was reported to the police by a white neighbor as a suspicious person for participating in the state’s “Stomp It Out” program when she helpfully tried to rid her neighborhood of the invasive lanternfly species.
Recently, The Atlantic’s Ed Yong has popularized the term “pandemicene,” arguing that human activity has ushered in an era of ongoing waves of viral pandemics. This begs the question for marginalized groups: If finding community indoors becomes perpetually unsafe due to repeated pandemics, and outdoor recreational and environmental pursuits are not welcoming and safe for us, where exactly are we supposed to go safely?
To answer this question, Ms. celebrates this year’s Earth Day by featuring the work of a diverse body of activists who have founded groups that aim to make outdoor spaces, pursuits and environmental activism welcoming and safe for all.
The preservation of the planet and its outdoor resources seems as important and as precarious as ever.
Since this year’s Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet,” such a list reminds us that true sustainability involves investing in all people in a spirit of inclusive conservation and environmental justice that preserves the earth and its resources for the benefit of everyone more equally.
From organizations that focus on women and girls, people of color, the queer community, the formerly incarcerated, children from economically challenged families, veterans and those who are disabled, here are 20 groups you might enjoy joining or supporting as we work towards such a future.
Bay Area Wilderness Training
As part of their mission to provide equitable outdoor access for Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) and low-income youth, Bay Area Wilderness Training offers outdoor experiences and training, and, crucially, maintains gear libraries so that a lack of access to equipment won’t prevent families from outdoor adventuring.
Black Girls Hike
Black Girls Hike combines outdoor adventures on the trail with the power of storytelling to encourage more women of color to engage with nature and the wilderness. They also offer restorative yoga experiences for Black women.
Brown People Camping
A social media initiative that has worked with a variety of outdoor corporations to promote higher visibility of people of color in outdoor pursuits to promote greater diversity, equity, access and social justice in the outdoors.
Casting for Recovery
Offers fly fishing retreats to breast cancer survivors to regain upper-body mobility after treatments and to seek healing and support together in nature.
This organization seeks to build disability community and justice in the outdoors and promote accessibility in the wild through writing accessible trail guides, educating parks on accessibility and conducting group hikes for the disability community.
The Greening Youth Foundation
This Atlanta-based organization trains inner-city youth in conservation, urban agriculture, tree-care management and entrepreneurship, and then helps place them in paid employment with conservation groups in order to diversify environmental organizations. To date, they have placed more than 750 people in jobs.
Hike Like a Woman
Founder Rebecca Walsh is a former Army officer who is passionate about helping women military veterans find healing in the outdoors. Hike Like a Woman offers extensive online training courses and gear lists to help women feel empowered and knowledgeable when pursuing outdoor adventures.
INSPIRE (Initiative to Bring Science Programs to the Incarcerated)
Ecologist Nalimi Nadkarni has pioneered multiple initiatives to bring nature to the incarcerated. Her Blue Room project seeks to provide nature imagery and sounds to those held in solitary confinement to bring the solace of the outdoors, which reduced violent infractions at a supermax prison in Oregon by 26 percent. Her Sustainability in Prisons Project (SPP) has led to inmates actively participating in sustainability movements through growing mosses to replenish from overharvesting, rare butterfly breeding, organic farming and spotted frog repopulation bringing a population that is highly removed from nature into active participation with environmentalism.
Founded by environmentalist and author Leah Thomas, who wrote the book The Intersectional Environmentalist (2002), this web platform and organization offers trainings and consultations on making environmental movements more intersectional.
Latinx-led organization creating a network of leaders in outdoor conservation and nature movements. Provides support to expand the Latinx experience outdoors by offering hikes and workshops for individuals and families that inspire joy from nature-based leisure activities and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Melanin Basecamp and Diversify Outdoors
Melanin Basecamp and its sister organization, Diversify Outdoors, were both founded by Danielle Williams. Both have served as important online hubs for networking across organizations with similar goals and to increase the visibility of people of color, queer people and others participating in outdoor activities. Bloggers of color and queer bloggers who write about outdoor adventures and environmental justice efforts are featured prominently.
Native Women’s Wilderness
Jaylyn Gough founded Native Women’s Wilderness to promote outdoor experiences for women of Native descent and women of color. As part of their mission, they explore and celebrate native lands, promote Native Women in outdoor industries, and provide education about ancestral lands and peoples.
Founded by Rue Mapp, Outdoor Afro connects and inspires Black people to find healing and health outside through outdoor education, recreation and conservation. Outdoor Afro has hosted over 1200 events across 60 cities. Their Making Waves program aims to increase access to swimming lessons for children of color.
The Outdoorist Oath
Founded by drag queen environmentalist Pattie Gonia, Teresa Baker and José González, this group offers workshops for any outdoor enthusiasts who want to learn more about intersectionality and inclusion. Participants can take an outdoor oath of inclusivity to broaden diversity and equity in the outdoors.
Outdoor enthusiast and activist Jas Maisonet started this organization to bring together queer people of color in the Pacific Northwest to pursue outdoor adventures while sharing their stories and experiences and to increase intersectional representation in the outdoors.
She Jumps offers wilderness and survival training for women and girls with a focus on outdoor diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as trips that include a variety of outdoor sports and activities from alpine school to wild skills. As part of their River School, they also offer education on fishing and river stewardship.
She Moves Mountains
Creating educational outdoor experiences for cis and trans women of all racial identities through trips and activities like summer camp, rock climbing, yoga and backpacking. They offer trips and experiences for all levels, including complete beginners.
Together Outdoors nurtures equity and inclusion in outdoor spaces and works to grant access to the outdoors for all people by hosting workshops, festivals, networking, education and grants awarded to outdoor initiatives across the country.
The Venture Out Project
Proves safe space for the LGBTIQ+ community to enjoy nature. This group offers backpacking trips and outdoor adventures for the queer community as well as conducting transgender inclusion workshops for outdoor educators and adventure professionals.
The Wanderlust Women
Creating a safe space for Muslim women in the outdoors in the United Kingdom, particularly (but not exclusively) those who might be targeted for wearing hijabs or niqabs. An award-winning film about their efforts can be found on their website.
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.