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Study invites people of color to have conversations about outdoor recreation

Chris Hill is an environmentalist in Haines.
Black in Alaska
Chris Hill is an environmentalist in Haines.

For some reason, people who recreate in public outdoor spaces are disproportionately white. Folks in the UAF Department of Natural Resources & Environment want to learn more about this by hearing from communities of color.

Researcher Rachel Garcia says National Park and other public land studies have shown that people of color don’t show up in the numbers reflected in the general population. She suspects people of color are not informing recreation and public lands decisions enough.

“Lots of research has looked at why disparities in land use happen. This study is an opportunity to explore the topic of racial equity in outdoor spaces in Alaska today," Garcia said.

She says the two groups most under-represented are Blacks and Hispanics.

“People of color, as part of this project, said things like, ‘yeah, it's been uncomfortable for me to join the Sierra Club or particular hiking groups because I'm usually the only person of color there’.”

Garcia says she’s looking at national organizations like Black Girls Do Bike or Outdoor Afro and Love is King for their environmental education programs.

She is recruiting now for focus groups in Fairbanks and Anchorage where people can talk about their experiences. In addition to her UAF colleagues, the YWCA in Anchorage is partnering on the study. She’s organized more than 20 people of color and Indigenous volunteers to collaborate on the design of the focus groups and ask the questions.

“ Explanations and connections between why people might have both positive and negative experiences in the outdoors. What would people like to be doing more of outside? Are there specific things that prevent them from being able to do that? Are there specific things that might make it more possible to be on the land in the outdoors in ways that they want to be? Garcia said.

She says not all people who are doing things outside would call what they do recreation.

“For this study, we really want to use a very expansive definition of things that you do outside. We're interested in all of them.”

She says Alaska Natives have distinct experiences and important perspectives on land use.

“ And one of the things that can affect land relationships is the experience of land dispossession that indigenous people have experienced.”

Garcia says she’s working with Tukni Holstrom, at Native Movement in Fairbanks, and talking with Alaska Native elders to learn how to approach the topic with Alaska Native perspectives in mind.

“And in fact, conversations with Tukni led to us using the phrase “ways of being on the land.”

Garcia’s research is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the UAF Institute of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Extension. She says the focus groups will meet this month and in April, and she will record and write up the data. Information about the study is posted on the YWCA website.

“My role, I think, is to present this data to organizations who could make decisions to create programs that support people being able to do more of the things that they want to do on the land.”

She thinks Alaska Native and community organizations, as well as federal, state and borough land and parks managers could use the findings of the research.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.