Outdoor Afro counts down to 2024’s annual leadership training in this pivotal Civil War, small college town

That family reunion time of year is almost here: Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (affectionately nicknamed OALT) for national not-for-profit organization Outdoor Afro. “2024 is extra special because this training will mark 15 years in nature for us,” said Founder and CEO Rue Mapp. “We’re also returning to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Conservation Training Center, which is where we’ve hosted past OALT events throughout our organizational history.” OALT will take place Friday, April 12, through Sunday, April 14, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia – the oldest town in the Appalachian Mountains state and a historic Civil War area. Shepherdstown also serves as home to the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC). The center leads the nation in education and training for natural resource managers to meet the goal of conserving fish, plants, wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of the American public. The quintessential venue for Outdoor Afro to provide nature-based learning and skill-building experiences to veteran volunteers and newest leadership cohort in its “Year of Innovation.”

Annually in April, OALT teaches all volunteer leaders how to guide their local communities in nature sustainably and safely during modern times. This year’s training will greet nearly 40 new volunteer leaders to Outdoor Afro’s 100-plus Volunteer Leader Program roster. Volunteers will travel from Northeast, South, Midwest, and West regions, bringing with them subject matter expertise in education, law, business, medicine, and agriculture. “This year’s cohort includes innovative rock climbers, foragers, skiers, roller skaters, paddlers, cyclists, and mountain bikers,” Mapp said. “They’re also parents, spouses/partners, students, and caretakers. What they all bring to OALT is a shared passion for our mission – to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature.” OALT will equip these outdoor trailblazers with strategies that authentically reconnect Black communities to nature through planned and guided year-round adventures across America.

With the support of staff, board members, and select partners, seasoned volunteers and the Class of 2024 will learn Outdoor Afro’s framework, values, and best practices to lead outdoor activities in their neighborhoods. OALT’s outdoor scholarship also includes risk management, health impacts on nature, basics to trip planning, conservation ethics, and pro tips for effective social media storytelling. Last year, OALT gathered at IslandWood in Bainbridge Island, Washington. The year before in Granby, Colorado, at Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountains. Along with these charming nature backdrops are opportunities for volunteers to gain field insights and career encouragement from Outdoor Afro’s designated partners and expert guest speakers announced right before the training begins.

Volunteers follow up OALT with original network activities like fishing, camping, animal tracking, and backpacking once a month in their Outdoor Afro networks. Whatever their community genuinely wants to learn about to strengthen local relationships with land, water, and wildlife, networks offer it. These nationwide network events concentrate on joy and healing while also disrupting a false perception that Black people do not have a relationship to nature. A formula that has worked for the past 15 years now. Mapp founded Outdoor Afro in 2009 and developed OALT in 2012 with a dozen outdoor enthusiasts – each literally answering the call to learn directly from her how to create and lead nature activities with hospitality at the forefront of the experience. “OALT is one of those events that everyone involved always looks forward to attending every single year,” said Mapp. “The intergenerational fun and outdoor learning is life-changing.”

Lead image of National Conservation Training Center and above Potomac River courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library.

ABOUT OUTDOOR AFRO: Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. What started as a kitchen table blog by Founder and CEO Rue Mapp in 2009 has since grown into a cutting-edge nationwide organization. Outdoor Afro’s U.S. networks include nearly 100-plus volunteer leaders who guide nature activities in up to 60 cities with network participation reaching 60,000 people annually. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people to the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Connect with @outdoorafro on social and visit outdoorafro.org to follow our year-round nature narratives.