Gina Wright: Outdoor Afro's intercontinental source to community-building, solidarity

If summed as a social media bio: She’s a network builder and globetrotting gardener. Outdoor Afro’s Program Assistant Gina Wright, 23, works within the Programs Department of the national not-for-profit organization.  Administratively supporting year-round programs. Cushioning this arm of Outdoor Afro so that local network events and nationwide campaigns are properly resourced.  All in the name of advancing Outdoor Afro’s mission: celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. Wright stays on top of local, regional, and coast-to-coast moving pieces of the Oakland-headquartered nature operation. 

She assists in the production of organizational campaigns and annual leadership training that educates more than 100 Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders. These leaders then guide outdoor activities in 60 cities and 32 states, including Washington, D.C. Sustainably. And safely. If leaders request snacks or supplies across the organization’s four regions, Wright does coordinated calculations with Harris to make it happen. And yet, she etches travel time to contribute to global outdoor initiatives in her private life. Her 2023 summer learning destination: Nicaragua. 

“It was a trip of personal research and education,” said Wright, “to begin building solidarity with folks I connected with in these communities.” She traveled to the capital city of Managua. Central-region department of Chontales. Port city of Bluefields. And the Garifuna village of Orinoco – north of Bluefields. Because she honestly cares about populations of people and their access to basic needs like food. Wright literally lives out the causes that she supports.  She backyard gardens 4 acres in San Francisco. Her typical summer crops: beans, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, peppers ( jalapeño, shishito, poblano).  “For this summer’s backyard garden season, there are cucumbers, dragon tongue beans, chayote, dill, and fruit trees,” said Wright. “Mostly managed by my housemates at the moment.”

Traveling both personally and on behalf of Outdoor Afro, the seasoned grower spent 10 days in the Central American country during June 2023. How she got there: Through nonprofit Friends of the ATC (Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo – or Rural Workers’ Organization), Wright learned of the network’s delegations designed to increase popular education about Nicaragua’s socio-political work.  Curious about how organization’s build community interest around a cause or campaign, Wright wanted to help do her part to contribute to ATC’s nearly 44 years of defending rural workers and the rights of Nicaragua’s countryside citizens.  She wanted to understand if there were any opportunities for intercultural, international, and localized unity in this space. “On this trip, I got a better sense of what food sovereignty can look like,” said Wright. “Of what diasporic, mixed, Black, and indigenous people are doing to protect and prosper in their cultures.” 

She befriended area producers. Put composting into practice. Discovered a new appreciation for the Earth’s soil – its nutrient-dense and aerobic conditions – so seeds can thrive. Even milked a cow. This disciplined destination for Wright stems from her academic background and connection to California farming experiences. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in geography with a concentration in economy, culture, and society.  It’s where she first heard about ATC while studying at the university. By way of Berkeley Student Farms and an agroecology course, Wright met like-minded folks fervent about farming. “Some of those involved with Berkeley Student Farms spoke highly of ATC’s work to improve the livelihood of rural workers, specifically farm workers,” Wright said.

From that moment, Wright wanted to attend a delegation. She finally got that chance this year.  Wright also received the opportunity to apply information she learned after college from Agroecology Commons – a collective that engineers farmer-to-farmer education, builds co-op networks, and supports food sovereignty and land stewardship. Agroecology Commons held a Bay Area farmer-to-farmer training in 2021 that Wright joined.  In both online and in-person instruction, she gained perspective around how small farm production, cooperative marketing, and social movements could unite for the greater good of global rural communities. Flying nearly 3,600 miles in June 2023, Wright put agricultural lessons to the test this summer. Taking meticulous notes as her Nicaragua trip progressed. Bringing back home themes around: 

THE POWER OF SMALL-SCALE COOPERATIVE NETWORKS. When possible, communities should invest in localized cooperative economies (i.e. fund local food systems on multiple levels – from education to practice and production to distribution).

THE IMPORTANCE OF FOLLOWING THE WORLD’S NATURAL SYSTEMS WHEN CULTIVATING FOOD. For example, some Garifuna farmers plant Cassava with the moon cycle. They also plant with the new moon when water is drawn down into the soil, which is advantageous for root crops. 

THE WISDOM IN AIMING TOWARD SOVEREIGN SUBSISTENCE IN FOOD SYSTEMS BY DEDICATING TIME TO LEARN LAND BEST PRACTICES. It is crucial to knowledge-share across people and places about communities with the most immediate needs. 

“It’s the first-ever delegation where representatives would hear directly from Afro-descendant and indigenous populations of the Southern Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, an autonomous region in the country,” said Wright. Her curiosity deepened as it connected to her academic roots, West Coast lifestyle, and affinity for farming culture. This journey allowed Wright to see global food systems operate, especially autonomous territories with ties to the African diaspora. The summer quest became the international traveler's third stay in Nicaragua.  On top of this scholastic visit, other personal adventures for Wright in these youthful years have included three trips to Costa Rica and two to Guatemala. Thumbtack on Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, Japan; Berlin, Germany; and Barcelona, Spain.

She returned to Outdoor Afro refreshed with new farming and community-building knowledge to share with team members. Trip takeaways: Everything in this lifestyle is interconnected. Global travel helps expand one’s consciousness of community challenges as they relate to worldwide conversations. When relationship-building, do so respectfully and responsibly. Wright said: “Building understanding and solidarity across different struggles – internationally, interculturally, and interdisciplinary – can lead to a liberation the globalized world has yet to see.”


PACK LIGHT. Use natural, breathable, quick-drying, and thin fibers. Wright recommends a combination of cotton, bamboo, linen.

REMAIN EXTRA MINDFUL OF YOUR ENVIRONMENT. Wright warns that there’s a lot of life and environmental intensity in tropical environments like Nicaragua. Bring the appropriate self-care items to protect yourself (ex: natural bug repellents like garlic, shea butter, lemon/eucalyptus-based products). Don’t count out reinforcements like mosquito netting, a shade hat, light-weight and long-sleeves shirts, securing travel insurance, having access to filtered water and sometimes stomach soothing teas like ginger and chamomile.

BRING PROPER TECH STORAGE. If traveling involves smartphone and laptop use, Wright recommends staying mindful of storing options. These tools need climate-controlled (dry) environments to sustain. Tropical climates are oftentimes not the best settings to operate technology.

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 network with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities. “Where Black people and nature meet,” Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow us @outdoorafro on social.

Elevated Experiences: 5 travel packing guidelines from an Outdoor Afro cycling expert

Cycling now scales outdoor activities that local participants of national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro mark off their summer travel plans. Just this month, Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Chasity Ramos guided an 8-mile neighborhood spin around Swamp Rabbit Trail in South Carolina’s Greenville County.  “Our participants showed up from near and far,” said Ramos to her Instagram followers about the July 15 “Black joy” bike ride. “From Atlanta to Charlotte to Greenville and Greer, our people were outside.” 

Her Greenville and Asheville, North Carolina, network supporters automatically accepted the fitness, health, and well-being challenge to a section of the original 22-mile, multi-use greenway. Ramos bonded with cyclists, delivered a few punchlines for laughs (as her personality calls for), and weaved the area’s Black history into pedaling pit stops. For those Outdoor Afro participants who have discovered or rediscovered cycling in their communities with the organization, these biking adventures can often lead abroad.

Curious about newer cycling destinations around the globe? Outdoor Afro’s executive director and international cyclist Lisa Bourne volunteers five travel packing recommendations. Bourne cycles nearly 4,000 miles annually at home and overseas. Whether road cycling, mountain biking, endurance cycling, leisure cycling, e-biking, or in cycling events, global cycling is definitely doable. Her suggestions to plan accordingly: 

DECIDE WHAT TYPE OF CYCLING ADVENTURE YOU WANT. During May 2023, Bourne shipped her Canyon road bike to island destination Mallorca, Spain, and headed right along with it. The weeklong stay allowed her to bike more than 120 miles and climb close to 15,000 feet. “Ask yourself: is it a road, gravel, or mountain bike trip for you?” said Bourne. “I’m a roadie. I love climbing – and descending – mountains on my bike.” Bourne admits she’s partial to mountains, especially those near beaches. Hence, this recent trip to Mallorca. Laden with camouflaged coves, chalked mountaintops like the Tramuntana range, fresh market farms, and turquoise water beaches, “I was so blessed to travel for my fourth time to this gorgeous island,” she said.

CARVE OUT TRAINING TIME FOR SPECIFIC TRAILS. Bourne’s Spain trip in the Mediterranean Sea landed her east of the Spanish mainland. Mallorca’s breezy climate and network of paved roads offers dreamy routes for a medley of cycling adventures. Back in 2012, Olympic cyclist Bradley Wiggins trained for the Tour de France by clambering up Sa Calobra – one of the island’s famous cycling climbs with 26 tightly packed, hairpin turns. Today, Mallorca is a cycling destination hotbed for pro cycling teams and amateur cyclists worldwide. Bourne recommends dedicating at least 12 weeks of personal and professional instruction before pursuing new courses. “Hire a cycling coach like Black-owned and -operated CIS Cycling,” Bourne said. “Don’t forget strength training – the core, back, and lots of squats. Try yoga on your off days to open those hips.” 

DETERMINE IF YOU WANT TO BRING YOUR OWN BIKE OR RENT ONE. Mallorca is built up with the best infrastructure to support diverse cyclists, confirmed Bourne. For refueling moments, the island provides bike racks stationed at community cafés, local bike shops, trained mechanics on standby, bike rental setups, and hotels with bike garages. “Bike garages allow you to build up your own bike if you’ve brought it along,” Bourne said. “You can even store your bike there when you don’t plan to ride. Mallorca is home to some amazing, local cyclists you can hire to lead you on the roads.” To help pick between bringing or renting a bike, Bourne points out two thoughts. First, look at the number of days you plan to spend on your bike. “If I’m spending one or two days cycling, I typically rent,” she said. “If I’m cycling for up to four or more days, I want to ride my own.” In both instances, Bourne stresses that the body should become well trained and adapted to your individual bike position. Warning: You risk injury riding on a rental for more than a few days if the position is incorrect. Second, calculate the cost of transporting your personal bike. Research if airlines will charge for special equipment. For certain situations, drill down on how much ground transportation will charge for hauling your bike and parts.

PACK FOR THE CONDITIONS (THE UNEXPECTED). Not everything during your adventure abroad will go as planned. “Assume there won’t be a bike shop nearby when you arrive at your destination,” said Bourne. “Cycling multiple days? You always want to bring extra.” Extra cleats for clipless pedals. Extra batteries and chargers for electronics. Extra gear and equipment for iffy weather forecasts. “If you're climbing at elevation, the weather will vary,” she said, “so pack layers.” Bourne recommends smart packing, including items like a base layer, jersey, wind vest, long-sleeve packable jackets, and arm/knee warmers. Cycling gear and equipment brands to consider: Rapha, Velocio, PEARL iZUMi, and Giordana.

GIVE YOURSELF GRACE. ABOVE ALL, HAVE FUN. A friend invited a then-amateur cycling Bourne to complete a three-day 350 AIDSRide in the year 2000. The AIDS awareness ride stretched North Carolina to Washington, D.C. Since Bourne loved her gym spin class, she thought “why not.” That experience led to her becoming a Luna Chix – CLIF BAR’s legacy ambassador program for cyclists that inspired more women to ride bikes and at the time supported breast cancer research. Throughout the decades, cycling has given Bourne mental clarity and strength; assisted her with lowering heart rate and blood pressure; and helped maintain her figure (legs and core especially). The years have increased her bike riding confidence and ability to incorporate cycling into the outdoor leader’s traveling lifestyle. She devoted 8 to 10 hours a week for four months straight to train for Mallorca trails. “I exceeded my personal goals,” she said. “In years past, this accomplishment hasn’t always been the case with factors out of my control – like my body’s response to jet lag, the elements, road closures, and at times falling sick.” Bourne has learned to go with the flow on her cycling journey: “Travel being grateful for your health and the freedom to just ride.” More about Bourne’s Outdoor Afro story here.

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 network with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities. “Where Black people and nature meet,” Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow us @outdoorafro on social.

Outdoor Afro Founder, CEO Rue Mapp wins Bessie Awards

Outdoor industry entrepreneur and globetrotter Rue Mapp won the 2023 Bessie Awards in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s electrifying tapestry of African, Spanish, and indigenous culture. “When I heard my name, my team and I were completely elated and squealing with gratitude,” said Mapp, founder and CEO of national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro. “My fellow nominees are so extraordinary. It was an honor to simply be in their company." She joined filmmaker/explorer Céline Cousteau and sustainable luxury expert Juliet Kinsman in the lifetime achievement JourneyWoman category. Mapp earned the fifth annual award at the 10th annual Women in Travel (WITS) Creator Summit held May 20 at Caribe Hilton. Global lifestyle brand Wanderful hosted the traveling marketing summit and evening ceremony.

Hundreds of Wanderful’s international collective of travelers and travel content creators rooted Mapp up to the stage to receive the first-ever win for her and her organization. The Bessie Awards honors women of impact in travel – particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and other representatives who have contributed unique voices and work to the travel industry.  As the JourneyWoman winner, Mapp joins a new community of travelers who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to making the travel industry better. The category commemorates the late Evelyn Hannon, who founded the world’s original solo travel publication JourneyWoman in 1994. With more than 60,000 subscribers, JourneyWoman became the largest publication for women over the age of 50 who travel across the planet. It’s co-created with and represents the voices of mature women for almost 30 years.

During 2019, now CEO and Editor Carolyn Ray acquired JourneyWoman. Travel trade platform TravelPulse named Ray as one of the most influential women in travel March 2023. Unable to attend the awards to present the honor, Ray shared a virtually recorded message to JourneyWoman finalists. She thanked Mapp, Cousteau, and Kinsman for their contributions to the travel industry. JourneyWoman also conducted a recent study that showed 70 percent of women above age 50 don’t feel seen or understood by the travel business. A missed opportunity for the trade to build relationships with these women and improve the types of travel experiences offered worldwide.

The JourneyWoman Award celebrates travelers proving long-term commitments to make the travel industry better. Photo by Tatianna Muniz of Ghost Edits.

“While I'm grateful for this prestigious recognition, I’m hopeful that this win will inspire other women to embrace the unprecedented opportunities we have today,” Mapp said. “These opportunities make it possible for more women of all ages and backgrounds to embrace a fulfilling and impactful career in the outdoor, travel, and tourism industries.” These findings are why women like this year’s sisterhood of finalists are significant to both travel and tourism conversations. The Bessie Awards uplifted these 2023 category winners spanning the globe as well: Collaborator of the Year: Switzerland Tourism x The Wanderlust Within; Creator of the Year: Olivia Christine Perez; Social Impact Award: International Black Women Travel Jubilee; Trailblazer Award: Jessica Serna (My Curly Adventures); Travel Startup of the Year: Fora; Most Impactful Piece of Writing: “Why You Shouldn’t Cancel Your Upcoming Trip to Puerto Rico” by Jen Ruiz; Wanderful Award: wmnsWORK; and Inclusion Award: Together Outdoors, Grant Program.

Together Outdoors won the Inclusion Award, which was a category shared by finalist Hurtigruten Group’s Black Travel Advisory Board. Mapp became a founding member of that board. Through it, she embarked on an 18-day Antarctica voyage February 2022 to help drive change and new opportunities for Black people in the adventure cruise industry. Its goal is to continue to increase visibility and inclusivity of Black travelers while heading to Norway summer 2023. Along with a successful Bessie Awards experience, Wanderful celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. As its Puerto Rico summit concluded Sunday May 21, Founder and CEO Beth Santos shared a toast with participants and surprised them with WITS 2024 destinations: Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, from April 12 to April 14.

Wanderful reaches more than 100 million women worldwide each year. Its hybrid online/offline membership community launched in 2020. The community offers women the chance to make lifelong travel connections both at home and abroad through an exclusive 24/7 member app; a global hosting network; local chapter events in cities around the globe; and professional and travel webinars hosted by resident experts. The following figures about women travelers prompted Santo to build the brand: women make up 80 percent of travel decisions; two out of three travelers are women; the number of women-only travel companies has increased 230 percent in the past six years; 11 percent of the travel industry includes solo women; and $800 billion is spent by solo women on their travels.

An international explorer, Rue Mapp is founding member of Hurtigruten Group's Black Travel Advisory Board. Cover photo and dock photo by Aspen Cierra Photography.

And the late Bessie Coleman knew exactly how it felt to trail blaze the travel and aviation industries alone in early 20th-century America. She became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French, moved to France, and earned her license from France's well-known Caudron Brother's School of Aviation in just months. Mapp is an awarded and inspirational leader, speaker, public lands champion, outdoor gear designer, and published author. The Oakland, California, native pioneered for-profit venture Outdoor Afro, Inc. in 2021 and subsequently launched a 22-piece hike collection with outdoor retailer REI Co-op. Her first national book titled “Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors” released with American publisher Chronicle Books during November 2022.

Over the years, Mapp has been recognized with many distinctions. She became a 2021 AFAR Travel Vanguard Award recipient, National Geographic 2019 Fellow, Heinz Awards Honoree, and National Wildlife Federation Communication Award recipient (received alongside President Bill Clinton). The White House also invited Mapp to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference, which led to her participation in the launch of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

Mapp’s career and community impact through Outdoor Afro aims to lift up the natural world and those who connect with it. Her advocacy for conservation continues to earn international media attention, including Essence, EBONY, The New York Times, Good Morning America, NPR, NBC’s TODAY, Forbes, Oprah Winfrey, and “MeatEater” with Steven Rinella. “In the spirit of Bessie Coleman – a trailblazer and pioneer – let us remember that our work is far from done,” said Mapp during her Wanderful acceptance speech. “Together, we can conquer the skies, overcome challenges, and realize our dreams. With unwavering determination and a commitment to helping communities thrive, we can make a transformative impact.”

The Bessies became a first-time win for Mapp whose life work within the outdoor industry travels the world. Photo by Aspen Cierra Photography.

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 movement with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities with network participation reaching more than 60,000 people. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow Outdoor Afro at and @outdoorafro today.

ABOUT WANDERFUL: Wanderful is a global lifestyle brand that specializes in helping all women travel the world. Reaching more than 100 million women worldwide each year, Wanderful connects travelers through a thriving membership community, meetups in 50 global cities, group trips, global events like WITS Travel Creator Summit, and the first major outdoor travel festival for women, Wanderfest. More here.

ABOUT WITS TRAVEL CREATOR SUMMIT: WITS is the premier event for travel’s top marketing talent. Creative entrepreneurs, influencers, DMOs, and industry come together to discuss future innovations, build dynamic collaborations, and change travel worldwide, all while supporting and empowering a dynamic community of women and gender diverse people. Details here

Network leaders educate National Capital Region about health advantages of fly fishing

Daybreak casts patience. Reels in Black joy. Seven District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia participants trailed two Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders to experience these favorable side effects. Their April 15 waypoint: Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ 1,930-acre Morgan Run. Leader Raymond Smith Jr., 62, huddled the enterprising fly fishers to set activity expectations at the natural environment area: “Today, we’re going to work on our approach, mending, high sticking, setting the hook, and reading the water,” said the now nine-year volunteer leader and sophisticated fisherman. “We want tight lines.” 

The group nodded then looked both ways before crossing Klee Mill Road. Once everyone cleared the street, they hooked a left. Trooped over a 9-foot-long wooden, jury-rigged bridge. Both Smith and co-leader Antonio Simmons, 51, guided their beginner fishers downstream, asking them to file off at earmarked openings along the path. "Give yourself space to practice your technique,” said Simmons. “Let’s see if we catch some trout.” Fly fishing counts as one of 1,200-plus nature activities hosted through the national not-for-profit organization’s Outdoor Afro Leadership Team.

More than 100 volunteer leaders help Outdoor Afro achieve its 14-year mission: celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. This particular event invited local participants to learn fly fishing basics in their nature-shared backyard. “I remember watching the fly fishing film ‘A River Runs Through It’ in the ’90s,” said novel fisher Sarah Neal, 55. “What stood out to me in that movie was the characters talking as a family and the calmness that came with fishing.” Neal also thought this type of experience was something she couldn’t afford to do — until she attended her first Outdoor Afro event four years ago.

Lead photo: Volunteer leader Raymond Smith Jr. teaches casting. Above: Participant Sarah Neal carries her trademark smile with every cast. Photo by Tiffanie Page.

"Outdoor Afro taught me that most of the activities out here aren't so expensive as I initially assumed," said the elementary school educator. Neal has camped with Outdoor Afro. Even learned how to make deer sausage at a previous network event. While Smith continued to chaperone other participants downstream, Simmons held back with Neal and cautioned: "Pay attention to your surroundings before you cast," said the five-year volunteer leader. "We're in a wooded area with a shaded cover."

Neal surveyed the location and found her bearings. Set up her fly rod and reel. Fumbled to hook her fly a few times. Finally ready: She attempted an overhead cast. Again. And again. And again. And again. Her rod mimicked an insect as it hit the water. “Yes, fly fishing is ‘active’ fishing,” Simmons said to remind Neal of her good efforts. “Constantly mend and strip the line.” Nothing. After many misses, still nothing. Just six months into the sport, Neal accepted her repeated results with a twinkled grin. Tee-hees in between.

Natural reactions Outdoor Afro commonly pulls out of participants across networks nationwide. In addition to Neal, Smith and Simmons introduced 25 network attendees to fly fishing last year. “It was important to share this skill with participants because our people have so many health challenges,” Smith said, “especially high blood pressure. Fly fishing helps take the stress and anxiety away. Nature in general does." When Smith and Simmons incorporated this popular event into their network offerings for National Capital Region residents, deep-rooted family ties to fishing came with their nature adventures.

Volunteer leader Antonio Simmons guides a network participant to a fishing site along Morgan Run. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

Simmons fished as a Baltimore kid with his father. Primarily catfish and carp. Along the Chesapeake Bay, his childhood fishing routine: Sculpt dough balls. Cast. Wait a few minutes before impatience kicked in. “I kept two rods with me back then,” the broad-built outdoorsman said. “I needed to move. Why fly fishing always worked for me.” Simmons has since upgraded to competitive fishing arenas. During 2022, he entered the Second Annual Snakehead Derby at Gunpowder Falls State Park in Maryland. He placed second in his category with a 5 pound, 3.5 ounce snakehead — an invasive species within the community.

Smith also gained angler expertise from his father. “Everyone in Glenarden knew ‘The Smiths’ fished,” said the veteran Outdoor Afro leader. “My dad, the late Raymond Smith Sr., was a professional barber. He fished almost every evening after work.” Raymond Smith Sr. casted his line into local waters until age 90. Living to reach 102 years old. Raymond Smith Jr. held onto his dad’s leisure and business habits. Currently owning Smith’s Barber Shop and buying his neighborhood’s takeout Horace & Dickies Seafood of Glenarden. Smith literally takes Outdoor Afro participants through the conventional process of catching their meal to re-imagining fishing as an entrepreneurship avenue.

“We serve five varieties of fish at Horace & Dickies — whiting, tilapia, catfish, trout, and croaker,” Smith said smiling and kneading his hands together. “People come from all over for the fish. And our lemon cake.” The two volunteer leaders plan to expand fly fishing site options for participants this year. Starting with Maryland’s Fly Fishing Trail. The first statewide course of fly fishing destinations in the nation. The brand-new, 2-site trail is positioned in Baltimore City and each of Maryland’s 23 counties. It constructed to help increase tourism to Baltimore waterways and deepen historical bonds to the pastime and sport.

Outdoor Afro fly fishing attendees woohooed when they heard the network news. “Fly fishing has taught me diligence on a new level,” said Devon Williams, 42, who is also a snowboarder and has joined Outdoor Afro in nature for a decade now. “Just by practicing casting I’m able to forget everything else going on.” Every few months, the expected DMV network activity offers newer opportunities to apply lessons learned. Provides another chance to release from work lifestyles, reconnect to the outdoors. “We caught absolutely nothing today, but that’s not the point,” said Smith. “The act of fly fishing is something our participants enjoy because this environment is so relaxing.”

Devon Williams puts Outdoor Afro casting lessons to practice at Morgan Run Natural Environment Area. Photo by Tiffanie Page.

7 winter wilderness guidelines from our Minnesota leader

Weather conditions fluctuate from rain, sleet, ice, and snow. Now. Add the word “freezing” in front of each element. That just about digests Minnesota’s January and February forecast. And if there’s one person who craves these extremities, it’s Outdoor Afro’s 2022 “Leader of the Year” Stephen Scott. “I personally love Nordic skiing (cross-country skiing) and snowboarding in the winter,” said Scott, 39, who is originally from Texas but has called Minnesota home for the past 10 years. “Our local network likes snow tubing, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing.” 

Through Outdoor Afro, Scott typically commits these months to winter activities that introduce his community to cold-weather environments with care. From Feb. 17 to Feb. 20, he hosted a first-time “Intro to Minnesota Winter Wilderness Weekend” in Northern city Ely – tapping into the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness – to teach survival skills and fun hobbies for this habitat. Community participants learned to dogsled, ice fish, and snowshoe. With nearly seven years of Outdoor Afro leadership experience in guiding his neighborhood in nature, Scott offers insight into no-man’s-land adventures during this time of year:

(Outdoor Afro Communications Director Candace Dantes) Q: Why was this network experience worth hosting to start 2023? What were the benefits of taking the time to coordinate and lead this first-ever experience for your community? (Stephen Scott) A: It's an excellent opportunity to try new winter activities and experience the beauty of our national forest. It also creates partnerships within the Ely community (Kes Ebbs, Superior National Forest/Kawishiwi District, Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, Arrowhead Outdoors) and shares the beauty of the outdoors in the winter. 

Q: For those not comfortable with radical winters (like me lol), what’s the appeal of Minnesota? Why is it an ideal staycation or travel destination? A: Beyond the frigid temperatures, Minnesota provides the perfect backdrop for a winter wonderland full of outdoor and indoor exploration. Before visiting in the winter, be sure to pack your layers (base, mid and top), gloves, and favorite hat. 

Q: So, what exactly did participants grasp during the wilderness weekend? A: A few different tasks. They learned about the conservation ethics, Minnesota ecosystems, careers in natural resources, and the relationship between recreation and management. For our specific activities, each got to understand the basics of dogsledding (orienting, meeting the dogs, launching a sled); snowshoeing (how to put shoes on and walk in them properly); and ice fishing (how to auger a hole into the ice, bait a hook, and find fish).

Q: From the images our professional photographer Joe Klementovich captured, the network action looked so tantalizing to try. As a seasoned winter wilderness expert, what tips do you have for first-time participants exploring nature in Minnesota during the winter months? A: Definitely dress in layers to maintain your warmth. Bring a warm beverage in an insulated container to stay hydrated. Pack adequate snacks to keep your energy going throughout the day. 

Q: Noted. For veteran nature explorers of the area, what’s something new they can learn in this region? A: Understanding the difference between “good” cold and “bad” cold to participate in local adventures. There is a difference. Also, being deliberate about their actions to prevent accidents, and truly knowing weather conditions so you’re prepared in terms of having the right gear and equipment.

Q: Speaking of gear and equipment, what are your must-packs for winter activities in Minnesota? And why these particular items? A: For me: wool base layers to start. These layers allow my body to stay warm but also help remove moisture from my skin. Second, a buff. It's a multifunctional piece preventing drafts around the neck and can easily protect the face from the elements. Third is my windshell, which pierces blowing winds and pulls heat from my core. Fourth, softshell snow pants for movement, protection from snow, and turn into a vent when I get hot. Fifth are, of course, my snow boots to keep my feet warm and dry. Honorable mentions: gloves, a hat, sunglasses or goggles, and hand warmers. 

Q: Got it down. Thank you for those “honorable mentions,” too. Lastly, you’re serving as a guide and mentor to fellow Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Christine Meissner this year since she became a recipient like you were of the Polar Explorers Matthew Henson Scholarship. Christine will attend a five-day introduction to a winter travel training course in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. What specifically will you help Christine achieve during this experience? What advice do you have for her before pursuing this scholarship journey?

A: My role as a second-year scholar is to provide Christine support in preparation (gear and questions) for the Polar Shakedown Training – designed to ready scholars for extreme cold-weather expeditions or polar treks. I also joined the Shakedown team to help guide the other scholars. My advice for Christine is to embrace skill-building, camaraderie, views, and temperatures – fully. I hope she will learn about her own personal limits, become deliberate in her actions while being in the cold, understand the different types of coldness, and thrive. Not just survive. 

*Click here to learn more about our Outdoor Afro Leadership Training that volunteers like Scott and Meissner participate in annually to develop aptitude to guide their neighborhoods in nature safely and sustainably.

Nature Champs: CLIF® Athlete Venus Williams, Outdoor Afro

Consider Virginia Key Beach as the response to white-only swimming pools and water recreation. In the middle of the 20th century, this Miami vacation destination for Black people granted access to boating, fishing, surfing, swimming, and beachside lounging. A way of life for generations of Black nature enthusiasts and Black wealth to thrive – even while segregation tormented the country. Outdoor Afro revisited this historical landmark summer 2022 with partner CLIF BAR® and CLIF® Athlete Venus Williams to reflect on Black joy and healing in nature-rich places.

“What an honor to not only share the day with Venus but with our Founder and CEO Rue Mapp,” said Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Sierra Taliaferro with binoculars ready. “I wanted to do my best to provide a memorable experience in my backyard of Miami." Joined by fellow volunteer leader Michele Nedrick, Taliaferro led Outdoor Afro community participants, Mapp, and the tennis star through the beach’s nature trails and cultural history. Taliaferro helped the group identify native flora and fauna in between genuine conversations to learn more about each other.

A Miami transplant, Taliaferro spends most weekends exploring area routes. Like the Outdoor Afro activities she hosts monthly, this partnership experience allowed both Taliaferro and Nedrick to introduce new CLIF BAR® and Outdoor Afro staff to local stories and species of the beach. Decades of it. “Virginia Key Beach is not only historically Black,” Taliaferro said, “but it’s monumental to our sometimes forgotten history.” The recreational site became a cherished safe space in the 1940s onward for Black beachgoers of the states to Black immigrants of South America, Cuba, and various Caribbean islands.

It wasn’t until 1982 that the city of Miami closed the beach because of “rising maintenance costs.” After a decades-long fight by the Virginia Key Beach Civil Rights Task Force, the beach landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. It reopened to the public in February 2008. An ideal spot for Nedrick and Taliaferro to host Outdoor Afro network activities yearlong that naturally strengthen the neighborhood’s connection to its land, water, and wildlife. In rhythm with typical network hikes, Nedrick and Taliaferro started the day with Outdoor Afro’s signature opening circle of introductions. Then, their educational and transformative tour meandered through sandy tracks and prickly-ash plants.

Occasionally, migrating birds and zebra longwing butterflies fluttered by the group as insect sounds amplified the ambience of the tropical wilderness experience. A fervent birder, Taliaferro often used her “field glasses” to identify native feathered friends for the day’s company. Since the beach is right on the coast, water birds were the easiest to pinpoint: white ibises, double-crested cormorants, and black-crowned night herons. “I often emphasize to beginner birders that birding is unconventional,” said Taliaferro. “You literally can do it anywhere. Even from your backyard.”

What led to this moment of Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders – sharing their expertise about this place of purpose for Black people – and CLIF BAR® goes back nearly a decade ago. CLIF BAR® and Outdoor Afro have been partners since the network became a national not-for-profit organization in 2015. Continuing to grow the partnership, CLIF BAR® created CLIF CORPS. This initiative is CLIF’s employee-led community service program where CLIF® Athletes donate time and resources to support nonprofits that make the spaces they live and play in more accessible and inclusive.

Williams serves as a CLIF® Athlete and has been a fan of Outdoor Afro for some time now. The perfect recipe to have a Black joy (and Black history) moment in nature: “I am honored to be part of this new chapter of CLIF CORPS and to support Outdoor Afro’s work to show greater representation in the outdoor community,” said Williams. “Together we will make a meaningful impact to reconnect Black communities with the outdoors and sports through education, recreation, and conservation.” The CLIF CORPS partnership features a series of ongoing giving and service amplifications with community groups like the Women’s Sports Foundation and National Parks Service. The goal is to provide opportunities for people across the United States to participate in activities otherwise deemed inaccessible or unwelcoming for social, emotional, or economic reasons. 

Throughout this year, Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders will guide CLIF-supported outdoor experiences across its four regions: Midwest, Northeast, South, and West. Activities range from biking, kayaking, and hiking. "A recent study led by Penn State found that 1 in 5 Americans have taken on a new outdoor hobby since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many Americans are unable to experience these benefits due to inequities in access to the outdoors and sports,” said Jodi Olson, Vice President of Brands at CLIF BAR®. “That’s why we are collaborating with Venus Williams and Outdoor Afro, two of our long-time partners, to enact change and break down systemic barriers, creating more diverse and inclusive activities for our communities.” 

Williams and Outdoor Afro took a beach walk. A few community participants showed off their driftwood tightroping abilities. When everyone made their way back to the initial opening circle location, the space created a new appreciation for Black contributions that developed the beach. The seaside stroll reinforced the everyday work Outdoor Afro does to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. Taliaferro wrapped up the evening by sharing that “nature allows us to see not only the surrounding beauty, but also the beauty in ourselves. Nature is truly a reflection of us.”

The water is ours too — always has been

Like most instances in American history, the pioneering roles Black people have held in water-related industries has rarely been acknowledged, documented, or celebrated. For decades, there has been an ongoing myth that Black people — mostly in the Americas — have no or limited relationships with water. Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Hillary Van Dyke has been instrumental in not only uncovering our hidden history in the St. Pete and Tampa, Florida, areas, but she is also taking charge to ensure her local community strengthens its connection to water, like our ancestors did. Van Dyke, a Southern-based historian, has spent time conducting research on the Black men who helped establish and ultimately make the area’s sponge diving business what it is today.  

“Sponge diving is a major industry in Tarpon Springs, Florida,” Van Dyke said. “It has now expanded into tourism where tour operators take people out on boats to see how the sponges were once harvested. However, when on these tours, the only pictures or faces you see are those of the Greek and/or white men who later built the industry.” The sponge used in modern times is now a synthetic material. Back in the day, Black divers helped collect sponge. Practical for cleaning and scrubbing purposes. In addition to maintaining personal hygiene, the sponge helped with filtering water and padding helmets.

It wasn’t until a 2008 Pinellas County survey released — the county in which Tarpon Springs (the “Sponge Capital of the World”) is located — that details on Bahamian male swimmers being the driving force of the industry were discovered. “The actual industry was built by these Black men,” said Van Dyke. “When the sponge fields were discovered in the area in the late 1800s, Bahamian divers were recruited and brought to the area to work in the businesses. But none of that is shared publicly or during the tours.”

Poolside photo of Outdoor Afro community participants courtesy of volunteer leader Hillary Van Dyke

According to the 2008 survey, boats from Key West made regular trips to the sponge beds and returned with rich harvests. An influx of Bahamian sponge fishermen established posts along the Anclote River. This led to more than 120 boats operating and new businesses springing up around the sponge fields at the helm of the Black divers. In 1905, Greek immigrants began arriving in Tarpon Springs after a Greek businessman working in the sponge diving industry made people in his homeland aware of the success of the industry. 

Within one year, some 1,500 Greeks had come to Tarpon Springs, joining with the Bahamian residents to support a thriving industry, the survey explains. By 1908, sponge harvesting was one of the largest industries in Florida. Tarpon Springs as a major base of operations. The irony: “The Greek divers are described as helmet divers. They wore complex diving suits to harvest the sponges,” Van Dyke said. “This is also a major part of what is highlighted during the tours being operated today. However, the Black Bahamian men were all free divers, using no equipment at all to go under the water.”

Hillary Van Dyke, Outdoor Afro volunteer leader for St. Pete and Tampa networks

Through her leadership role as an Outdoor Afro volunteer, Van Dyke wanted to correct local history. As part of her weekend activities with community participants, she asked participants if they wanted to take adult swim and scuba diving lessons in the area. They did. “I have close connections with the city and wanted to be able to offer this to adults who never learned to swim,” the 2021 Outdoor Afro “Leader of the Year” said. “It’s very courageous of any adult to make the decision to learn to swim later in life. There are often deep-rooted traumas associated with our reasons as Black people for not learning early in life. So, I know it takes a lot for them to join our classes.”


While participants take their swim lessons, Van Dyke shares the history and impact the Black divers had on Tarpon County. Reconnecting them to the group’s generational relationships with water. “They always find it very intriguing, especially knowing that none of this is being shared elsewhere.” Van Dyke dives deeper into history by mentioning that in the mid-1950s local officials received funding to build a ‘Negro-only’ beach. A move that happened after conflict of trying to integrate the area’s segregated beach arose. However, rather than using the funds to do so, officials instead built North Shore Pool, which was for white swimmers only. 

A song and dance Black communities have seen and experienced firsthand for generations. From the famed Inkwell in Oaks Bluff, Massachusetts to the countless ‘swim-ins’ that took place across the South — longstanding evidence Black people and Black communities have a deep love of and natural links to waterways. Van Dyke serves as a continuation of Outdoor Afro’s mission to inspire and celebrate Black connections and leadership in nature. Changing the narrative that Black people “don’t do water.” 

7 Bay Area Ridge Trail routes to summer trip plan

Planning a trip to the Bay Area with Outdoor Afro is a guaranteed outdoor adventure. Volunteer leaders guide some of the most enriching events to establish new relationships with natural West Coast wonders. Mountain hikes. Valley bike rides. Beach games. Public land nature journaling. You name it, volunteers have probably guided it. So here’s another adventure to anticipate exploring with the network: the Bay Area Ridge Trail

Spanning 400 miles, this multicity network of trails offers everything from camping to flower spotting. It winds through San Francisco, Marin, Oakland, Napa, Sonoma, San Jose, the Peninsula, Berkeley, and Fremont. Multi-use pathways meander between the area's North and South Bay. The idea to develop such a comprehensive trail spawned from a group of outdoor enthusiasts who envisioned an extended option for Bay Area residents, providing epic routes for those itching to discover more of nature from their backyards. 

The trail opened in 1989. As of November 2021, 400 miles have been dedicated for public recreational use with another 150 miles opening in the coming years for the same purpose. Once the full 550 miles complete, residents and tourists will have continuous access to more than 75 parks and open spaces. Visitors can go by foot and even horseback through some of the Bay Area’s most iconic and tranquil naturescapes and backdrops. Of course, mapping out such a massive route can become challenging, however the trail’s website offers an easy-to-use system — the Ridge Trail Circumnavigation.

Plan everything from campsite locations and multi-day itineraries to determining the closest parking lots and best locations for a scenic picnic with gal (or guy) pals. Although there are still some unfinished parts to the trail, adventurers can take advantage of the trail’s two long, uninterrupted stretches that are currently open. On the Western Ridge: an 80-mile stretch from Northern Marin to Highway 92. On the Eastern Ridge: a 43-mile stretch from El Sobrante to Union City. View the full database of trail maps to organize summer trips. Fun options for future Outdoor Afro Meetups the network is considering as well. So include these starter locations into this year’s Bay Area travel plans, whether an independent day trip or longer excursion with family and friends:

Carquinez Strait Bike Loop, photo courtesy of Bay Area Ridge Trail

Presidio to Marin Headlands

Distance: 1.9 miles | Difficulty: Easy

The star to this stretch of trail is none other than San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. One of the less strenuous paths, this short walk also is accessible by wheelchair. As with any bridge, wind conditions are unpredictable, so be sure to carry an extra layer of clothing (scarves or pullovers) to confront extra breezy days.

Mount Tamalpais State Park/Bolinas Ridge

Distance: 6.4 miles | Difficulty: Moderate

For those who enjoy smartphone-worthy landscapes, this is the ideal trail section. From blooming wildflowers to ocean view lookouts along each step, this hike may be a little more demanding, but the vista will certainly help keep the trip on scenic course.

Jack London State Park and East Slope Sonoma Mountain

Distance: 5.5 miles | Difficulty: Hard

Challenge seekers: This one is definitely the one. So, bring it. The trail is located within the historic Jack London State Park. During the journey, expect to go through a rather dense forest. The perk while making it through this woodland is calming streams flowing nearby. Reach the highest point of the mountain’s ridge, and scenery typically found in global magazines of Valley of the Moon and the Bay are end results. 

Table Rock to Palisades Spur

Distance: 6 miles | Difficulty: Hard

Ever pondered what it’s truly like to ascend to the highest point of the Bay Area? Now is the time to put action behind the thought. It’s often recommended to try this hike between April and June, because that’s also when wildflowers endemic to the area come out to play. See if you can spot the Southern Oregon buttercup, the Henderson’s fawn lily, or the dwarf woolly meadowfoam. To be clear: This trail requires full hydration, so pack enough fluids to keep moving steadily.

Russian Ridge Preserve, photo courtesy of Bay Area Ridge Trail

Coyote Lake to Harvey Bear Ranch Park

Distance: 5.6 miles | Difficulty: Moderate

This stretch is picnic perfect. Unplug for a couple of hours next to Coyote Lake, which is a popular feeding area for wild bird species like blue herron, red-necked grebe, and ring-necked ducks. Camp around this popular waterway. Easily bring a backpack. Pitch a tent. Plunge into local lake life. Keep in mind there’s very little shade along the trail, so pack sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses if possible.

Carquinez Straight Bike Loop

Distance: 24 miles | Difficulty: Difficult

For Bay Area mountain bike riders, this mix of paved roads and pathways connects the Carquinez Straight through a 24-mile loop. Along the way, take in rarely seen cityscapes of the Bay. When it’s break time, there are plenty of eateries and cafés along the route to refuel or restock on snacks and knick knacks.

Mount Madonna County Park

Distance: 3.5 miles | Difficulty: Difficult

This route is entirely uphill, so prepare mentally and physically before attempting. Start from the Sprig Recreational Area trailhead to climb and climb and climb. Pass by boulder-laced grasslands before finishing in a redwood canyon. It’s an estimated 1,150-foot slope, so good luck!

Machine Falls: where endurance hikers, leaders are born

The accordion-like hike chugs along with ease.  Then, a collective cautiousness seeps in.  Ahead, a 60-foot descension. Disjointed stones, hard-to-identify wooden staircases, and protruding tree roots offer occasional guidance with each unsure footstep. A steep, jagged drop any hiker would question. Then, her voice echoes toward the group: “Take your time,” said Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Danielle Young, 35. “There’s no rush.” 

“Whew!” Some blurted. “Thank goodness!” Another wave murmured under their breath. Once that part of the hiking gauntlet completes, everyone temporarily lands back on solid ground. Young gives clear direction for this next part: It’s slippery entering the water. Which, by the way, comes to one's knee. Something she gave notice about weeks before on Outdoor Afro’s Tennessee Meetup page. 

“So walk slowly,” Young said. “I will be there at the halfway point to tell you where to go next.” A woman of her word, she does. For the last time as an Outdoor Afro volunteer leader. An assignment she now passes to new 2022 volunteer leader Danae Gaiter, 36.  After a few mental scares and semi-water treading hesitations, the party of nearly 15 community participants arrive at their destination: Machine Falls Loop Trail in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Roughly an hour drive from Nashville.

The aerospace and aviation hub in Southern Middle Tennessee is home to the world's most advanced flight testing center. Railroad construction actually created the community, which chartered in 1852. However, the city’s surrounding springs became popular tourist attractions alongside its growing avionics history. Machine Falls became one of Tullahoma’s many challenging sightseeing routes and waterfalls visitors wanted to test. Explore water life (creek beds and smaller waterfalls), fauna, and flora as pluses to the trail.

The Machine Falls Loop is one of the most physically challenging hiking trails in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Positioned off a 4.1-mile loop, the more than 60-foot-tall waterfall is a top Outdoor Afro activity on Tennessee participants' to-visit list. For the past three years, Young has guided those interested in the destination on Outdoor Afro weekend adventures. COVID paused group trips to Machine Falls until recently. However, Young found personal peace at the waterfall while waiting for network events to start again. Outdoor Afro has helped Young in present times of grief.

“Logging offline and heading into nature is just soothing, especially with everything that has been thrown at me,” said Young, a cyber defense major. Because Young plans to move closer to her sister who lives in Texas, she recommended Gaiter as her volunteer leader replacement. Gaiter, who participated in her very first Outdoor Afro activity in November 2021, accepted. As network events posted to Meetup, Gaiter joined more journeys with Young. Refreshed. Inspired.

“It felt so good to be with like-minded people,” said Gaiter. “Breathing in the early morning air. That sense of being welcomed. Getting all my questions about nature answered.” Sold on taking Young’s place, Gaiter applied to become an Outdoor Afro volunteer leader. After many screenings and interviews by the networks’ national program director, Chaya Harris, Gaiter joined the Class of 2022 volunteer leaders. Totaling 117 volunteers this year. Next, Gaiter hopped on a flight to Granby, Colorado, for Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (OALT) held at River Run RV Resort. 

Class of 2022 volunteer leader Danae Gaiter with former volunteer leader Danielle Young at Machine Falls.

Another weekend experience but for selected and trained applicants to gain the essential tools needed to guide local communities in nature sustainably and safely. The training is organized annually by Outdoor Afro staff and experienced volunteer leaders who share the organization's history, values, best practices, and industry knowledge, including: trip planning basics; health impacts of nature conservation ethics; risk management; and effective social media storytelling. Select partners and guest speakers are invited to the training to provide field insights, and share inspiration and encouragement.

After training, volunteer leaders like Gaiter create and guide monthly trips that foster local program collaborations, and help strengthen community relationships with land, water, and wildlife. Volunteers center joy and healing, disrupting a false perception that Black people do not have a relationship to nature. “I’m really big on making people feel comfortable,” said Gaiter. “We belong in this space. I look forward to reassuring our participants that there is safety in numbers within group experiences.” Gaiter’s contributions are part of Outdoor Afro’s 60,000 participation network.

The national not-for-profit organization spans 60 cities across the country. Located in 32 states, including Washington, D.C. That moment at Machine Falls where participants made it safely and together to the cascading water scene is what OALT prepares volunteer leaders for. The arduous hike left 67-year-old Jesse Green Jr. of Nashville in anticipation for the local network’s next nature quest.  “I could have stayed at that waterfall all day with Outdoor Afro,” said Green Jr., a former YMCA certified swim instructor trainer. “I loved hearing the water. Although it was really cold water, it was a great experience with new people.”

Outdoor Afro MarComm Manager Candace Dantes interviewing Nashville network participant and sweeper Nicole.