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Diversifying the great outdoors

Time spent in nature can be transformative. Yet, by and large, people of color are underrepresented when it comes to those who take part in outdoor activities. Across the United States, various groups are trying to bridge that divide, including the newly formed Camping in Color here on the campus of the University of Utah.

Started by graduate students Sydney Murray and Hilary Lambert, Camping in Color had its inaugural camping trip in September of 2023 in the Wasatch Mountains. Through their partnerships with groups like Outdoor Auntie, the U Sustainability Office, Curly Me SLC, Wasatch Mountain Institute (WMI) and REI, the group was able to provide all the gear needed for this free event, so each participant had what they needed to feel safe and comfortable without the financial constraints.

“It came together really quickly” shared Murray. “Once we got the team established, the momentum kind of just took off from there and we were able to get to the logistics of planning the program.”

“We leveraged WMI’s gear library and resources with our ideas for Camping in Color and we got a grant from the University of Utah to make it all happen,” added Lambert.

On Dec. 6, 2023, Lambert and Murray will host a “story hour” about the trip featuring some of the community partners and participants, as well as a short film. The event will take place at the Cleone Peterson Eccles Alumni House at 7 p.m. Tickets are free, but space is limited. Please RSVP here.

Murray and Lambert are excited to share with the community because Camping in Color is about more than the mere enjoyment of being outside, but also about fostering feelings of belonging and connectivity while breaking down barriers. Central to the mission of Camping in Color is not only to create a meaningful experience in nature for Black youth and their families but also to conduct research on the best practices for diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor programming.

“I grew up recreating in Virginia. Typically, I was the only person of color, let alone the only black person in these outdoor spaces,” said Murray.  “There were definitely spaces I didn’t start to enter in the outdoors until my adult years because I was intimidated and nervous.”

Camping in Color will continue to increase outdoor recreation and education among Black families as it becomes an annual event in the Wasatch region. Murray, Lambert, and their dedicated team have sown the seeds of change for diversity, inclusivity and belonging in the outdoors.

Said Lambert, “I heard so many conversations where people were making connections, finding new friends, finding mentors for their kids, and kids going ‘mom, can we do this again?'”