‘Unlikely’ Hikers Hit the Trail

Jenny Bruso is a 37-year-old, plus-size, queer hiker living in Portland, Ore.

She went on her first hike seven years ago after a person she was dating asked her to join. On the 5.8 mile loop trail she felt self-conscious, walking slowly and sweating because she wasn’t used to working out.

“I really didn’t know what to do except walk,” she said. “But I felt something kind of unlock, this feeling of possibility like I was seeing nature for the first time.”

Ms. Bruso became obsessed with hiking. But the more she hiked, the more she saw that the people on the trails did not resemble her. In 2016, she created an Instagram account, Unlikely Hikers, posting photographs of African-American, gay, transgender and disabled hikers. It has grown ever since.

Ms. Bruso is one of many hikers turning to social media to try to make the outdoors more welcoming and diverse. While Ms. Bruso targets all minorities, other hikers and outdoors groups try to inspire people from specific nationalities, identities or with physical challenges. Many organize real-life events to push their members outside.

Our public lands have a diversity problem. A report released in 2017 by the National Park Service showed that 78 percent of visitors were white. African-Americans, by contrast, represented only 7 percent of visitors.

“Come 2040, our country will have more people of color than white people,” said Ambreen Tariq. “If these people aren’t going into the parks and green spaces, there won’t be anybody to be advocates and stewards,” she said. “We need people to get out there to love the land so they will fight to protect it.”

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