Outdoor Retailer - April 2021 - 34

Field Notes: Inclusivity

Leading a group of Black and brown climbers at Pictured Rocks
National Lakeshore illuminates what still needs to be done to
remove barriers to access for all. By James Edward Mills
OVER ONE OFTHE LAST GOOD WEEKENDS OF
the North American ice climbing season, I
led a small group of first-time ascenders to the
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on the
Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At the invitation
of Bill Thompson, the co-owner of Michigan's
Down Wind Sports, I brought together folks
from Grand Rapids and Detroit to experience
the frozen cliffs of Lake Superior.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021
Michigan Ice Festival was canceled. Though
this annual event typically draws hundreds of
avid climbers and many beginners to Pictured
Rocks, this year, those who might have attended were sadly disappointed. But Thompson
graciously made himself and another professional guide, along with all the necessary
equipment, available to welcome a limited cohort of leaders from two urban communities to
enjoy the natural resources of their home state
in a national park. Careful consideration was
paid to COVID-19 protocols. In the hopes of
overcoming some of the cultural and economic barriers that often prevent people of color
from visiting and recreating on public land, we
aimed to create a safe and supportive environment where these Black and brown folks could
enjoy the ice and just have a good time.
" All you have to do, " Thompson told me, " is
get them here. "
In many ways, it really is that simple. But
everything else before that is infinitely more
complicated. Many in the outdoor industry
think that just making the opportunities to
recreate freely available to everyone is all that
is required, but I believe that to make the outdoors truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive,
we must also proactively remove even the most
basic barriers to access whenever possible.
As a Black kid growing up in Los Angeles,
there was very little stopping me from enjoying the outdoors. Despite the racial tensions

34 OUTDOOR RETAILER

/ April 2021

of the 1960s and '70s, I enjoyed the privilege of
doting parents and conscientious adults in my
community who built positive experiences for
me. I never had to worry about making campsite reservations, organizing transportation,
planning meals, or hiring a guide. All of that
was done for me, so, when I became an adult, I
was able to naturally learn to navigate the complexities of venturing into the outdoors.

IFYOU DON'T GROW UPWITH SUBSTANTIVE
experiences or have role models to follow in
outdoor recreation, it's not easy to acquire
the confidence and skills necessary to take on
something like ice climbing. But it's not impossible. In addition to the support of Down
Wind Sports, our Pictured Rocks ice climbing
retreat was sponsored by Patagonia, Seirus
Innovations, Yeti, Osprey, and Sol Alpine, who
provided each of our seven participants with
the clothing and accessories they needed to be

FROZEN FUN
The group from
Grand Rapids and
Detroit gets after it at
Pictured Rocks.

James Edward Mills

Breaking the Ice

comfortable in this cold weather environment.
An outfitting company called BOAT (Bus for
Outdoor Access & Teaching) provided the
transportation necessary to bring everyone to
the U.P. without everyone having to endure six
hours of winter-driving conditions in separate
cars. And, with my culinary and hospitality
skills, I managed to provide food and lodging
for everyone in three Airbnb rental homes.
" As much as I was excited about the idea of
ice climbing, " says participant Alice Jasper,
" I was just glad to be outside in this beautiful
place hanging out with people I enjoy. "
It is obviously unsustainable to provide
everyone with an all-expenses-paid outdooradventure experience. But as an industry, what
we can do is strategically invest in the exposure
and encouragement of BIPOC community
members to become leaders in outdoor spaces.
Now that we've broken the ice, so to speak,
each of our participants is excited about the
prospects of coming back and doing it again.
In time, I believe we can create more opportunities that encourage and inspire underrepresented segments of our population to organize
and lead trips of their own.
" I hope we can do this again next year, "
Thompson says. " But next time the climbing
guides should be people of color. " O.R.


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Outdoor Retailer - April 2021

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