When my friend Fred Harrington contacted me by text last year I figured he just wanted to get together for a beer. A neighbor around the corner from our house on the Near Westside, he and I, along with our wives frequently meet for drinks and dining at one of many local restaurants in Madison.
“Do you have any time Wed to discuss the book nomination for Edgewood College?” the message read. “Preferably over beer, Maybe just before during or after dinner? It is due Fri.”
Beer was certainly included in his invitation but Fred meant to discuss something infinitely more important. A lecturer in philosophy at Edgewood College he wanted to put my book up for consideration in the 2015 Common Read Program.
Every year college campuses, high schools and area communities across the country pick a single book to read collectively. Common Read aims to bring people together in order to discuss and share their thoughts about a central topic or social issue at the core of a work of literature. This year the students and faculty at Edgewood College will read my book The Adventure Gap: Changing The Face of the Outdoors.
I am naturally very honored to have the opportunity to share this work of historical non-fiction with members of my community. It’s my hope that we might raise the level of conversation to explore how we might make outdoor recreation and environmental conservation more accessible to people across the demographic spectrum of race and ethnicity in order to welcome a new generation of empowered young people to take an active part in the preservation of the natural world in which we all live.
But as cities across our nation are rocked by racial unrest and peaceful protests devolve into violent confrontation some might suggest that our efforts would be better invested in discussions of mitigating critical social issues such as poverty, unemployment and urban crime. I believe, however, that these very really modern circumstance are actually symptoms of a much more serious problem. As we continue to lose touch with the importance of fresh air, clean water, wholesome food and access to open space where we can roam free hostility and violence are the inevitable outcome of a society deprived of these basic human necessities. It’s important to realize that fair wages, affordable housing, access to health care, reliable public services and conscientious law enforcement are the cornerstones of a productive civil society. A constituency of citizens with leisure time and frequent opportunities to recreate in a safe and secure natural environment should be the ultimate goal of any municipality or government institution truly dedicated to the wellbeing and prosperity of the populations they serve.
In writing The Adventure Gap I had hoped to point out the disparity of those who choose to recreate outdoors and those who do not. Like many indicators of success and fortune in our society access to and engagement in the natural environment falls tragically along racial lines. But if we can shift the discussion to be more inclusive to those segments of our population who have long been disenfranchised and marginalized, preventing their full and enthusiastic participation in the past, I believe we can create an abundant and sustainable world into the future for the benefit of everyone. I am grateful for the opportunity to help lead this conversation through this book we will read in common.
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