By Emma Castleberry
In March, Flo Mayberry and her friends, Kathey Avery and Tanya Cummings, took a trip to the Carl Sandburg House to meet Frank and Audrey Peterman. The Petermans, who were presenting a lecture at UNC-Asheville that evening, travel the country working to engage the diverse American population with our public lands. After meeting the couple informally at the Sandburg house, the three friends decided to attend the Petermans’ lecture to learn more about their mission.
Petermans discovered their enthusiasm for the outdoors later in life. As they explored the country’s national parks on a 12,000-mile road trip, they noticed a distinct absence of people of color in these natural spaces. Thus began a career of advocacy for the couple. “After the lecture, we were sold,” says Mayberry. “We wanted to follow in their footsteps, so before the end of the reception that followed the presentation, we had established the rudiments of an outdoor group.” The group, Pathways to Parks, has five charter members: Cummings, Mayberry, Avery, Larry Pender and Tony Beurskens.
Pathways to Parks has a distinct mission: to introduce underrepresented black and brown people to local and state parks and nature preserves. “The Petermans said these groups seldom use our public lands and are getting the least benefit,” says Cummings. “Apart from the relaxation and inspiration of being in nature, doctors are now writing prescriptions for ‘nature therapy’ to deal with diseases such as hypertension and obesity. Health benefits can be achieved through exercise, which is reason enough to get people of color into the outdoors. Groups like ours are the gateway to encouraging them to become interested in, and take ownership and care of, our country’s National Park System.”
Employment trends may have contributed to this unequal representation. “Historically, in many instances, people of color have held labor-intensive jobs that are physically demanding, while a larger percentage of whites have held white-collar jobs,” says Mayberry. “Going out into nature is perceived as ‘work’ and that is the last thing they want on their days off.”
Across generations, these trends became a cycle: as outdoor recreation areas became predominantly white, they also became less comfortable environments for people of color. “When people of color see faces that look like them, they’re more inclined to revisit,” says Mayberry. “We want black and brown citizens to share in the beauty that local and state parks, as well as our national parks, have to offer. Trails and national parks can become more appealing to people of color by groups such as ours forming throughout the country.”
Pathways to Parks is eager to reverse the image of outdoor activities as rough or uncomfortable. In addition to hiking, their outings include nature walking, whitewater rafting, picnicking, sightseeing, tennis and bicycling. “The out-of-doors offers a physical, emotional and spiritual connection for us all,” says Beurskens. “Engaging in the outside world can encourage healing and resiliency, and help create whole communities.”
For more information about Pathways to Parks, email the group’s publicist, Tanya Cummings, at email@example.com.