11 Apr Silence of the Haters
Typically when I write about diversity in outdoor recreation I get hate mail. Ever since I started following this topic more than a decade ago, with every story I’d publish, either in print or online, I could count on a steady stream of haters from across the country detailing with very colorful language how I’m what’s wrong with America. In my all-time favorite rant a reader referred to me as “an articulate douche bag with good literary skills”. Truthfully I was flattered as I had nonetheless impressed him as a writer of some compelling ability. But upon the release my latest feature on the May 2018 cover of Outside Magazine my regular detractors were usually silent. Three days after the story titled “This is What Adventure Looks Like”, I haven’t received a single negative comment.
Of course I’m sure there are many out there who disagree with notion that underrepresented segments of the population should be encouraged to spend time in nature. It’s entirely possible, in fact probable, that when Outside posts this story online there will be readers who will let loose a barrage of hateful comments. But usually they tend to find me at the first whiff any effort to make our public lands more accessible to people of color, members of the LBGTQ community or the working poor. This time though it seems the only compliant that was registered by several people is my having neglected to include the elderly among those in need of encouragement to get outside. I suppose I should take it as a small victory to be accused of not being inclusive enough!
It just goes to show that we should all work toward making the outdoors accessible to everyone. Magazine cover images must regularly include images that represent every demographic sector or our wildly diverse population. That includes those of us advancing in years.
“Someday, the people on the cover will be over 30,” a reader wrote in comment. “If they’re lucky, they’ll be adventuring well into their 60s and 70s. Your statement would have been even more awesome with one simple addition: ‘Regardless of a person’s cultural origin, AGE, disability, body type, gender identity or the color of their skin, we all have a role to play in the protection and preservation of the natural environment.’”
Indeed, I should have included age. Now that I am myself past 50 it is definitely in the best interests of everyone to avoid even the impression of ageism in our reporting and coverage of outdoor recreation. When we make our public lands accessible to more varieties of people we can expand the constituency of those who will be more inclined to protect it. Though we run the risk of over populating our national parks, forests and wilderness area we might also be inclined to devote more economic resources toward their upkeep and continued preservation.
I am very pleased to discover that many people want to make the outdoors available to everyone. I was especially struck by reader who wrote to me via email. He has a young child on the autism spectrum who loves being outside.
“Are you aware of any programs for kids with special needs geared to getting these kids (or adults) outdoors and adventuring?” he wrote. “I’m shifting my attention away from the organized sports for people with special needs, which I still love, to getting them into the outdoors.”
I’m currently looking for programs that can help parents like this gentleman introduce their children with disabilities to nature. Drop me a note here in the comments or send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org Thanks so much to the thousands of friends, followers and fans who have expressed their support and encouragement for this work that is my privilege to do. Let’s continue to share our suggestions and resources to assure that everyone who wants to experience nature can get outside!