Wanderers Welcome: Tracking winter wildlife at Upper Saco Valley Land Trust with Outdoor Afro’s ‘Frozen Chosen’

Crunch. Crack. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crack. Crunch. Crunch. The traction-spiked hiking boots shuffled at a potato chip chewing cadence. Oddly melodic as the animal tracking morning picked up pace. A warning from Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Mardi Fuller, 44, as she guided the March 2 New Hampshire winter experience: “Don’t consider moving to New England if you’re not a fan of winter,” the four-year leader said. “We have plenty of it throughout the year.” Winter sports to coincide as well: ice climbing, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and mountaineering. All offered through Fuller’s Outdoor Afro Boston network. Community participants who sign up with Fuller are guaranteed innovative nature adventures with the diehard hiker. Sustainably and safely. During January 2021, Fuller became the first-known Black person to scale all 48 New Hampshire peaks – 4,000-footers – in the winter. See. In good hiking hands.

Annually, Outdoor Afro’s Northeast Region arranges area opportunities for cold-weather outings that help beat the “winter blues.” Recasting shorter days into celebrated, snowy moments with brand-new friends. “I’m a multitasker,” said Fuller. “The simple action of walking in the snow allows me to settle down and get into this meditative mind frame.” That Saturday, she exercised this form of nature medicine with three network frequenters – Xander Bennett, Keenan Augustus, and Thai Koenig (left to right in the above image with Fuller flanking the far right side). Better known as “The Frozen Chosen.” Together, the four toured the Chain of Ponds Community Forest Conservation Project. This soon-to-acquire property of Conway, New Hampshire’s Upper Saco Valley Land Trust blankets 625 acres. The land trust’s goal is to raise $1.3 million from local foundations, state grant makers, and individual contributions by November 2024 to purchase and permanently conserve the landscape.

Aerial view of Upper Saco Valley Land Trust's Chain of Ponds. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

Chain of Ponds covers an ecologically significant glacial trough valley in neighboring Madison, New Hampshire. Connected to its forestland and inland waters, the project features headwaters of Pequawket Brook and Silver Lake’s North Inlet. The valley itself includes roughly 110 acres of wetlands; 25 acres of cliff and talus slopes; glacial eskers; surface waters and wetlands; 300 acres of mapped aquifers; and approximately 4 miles of surface water frontage along several streams and ponds. A peerless outdoor playground. Once the purchase completes, the public can access newer sites for biking, paddling, hunting (white tail deer, ruffed grouse, and small game like rabbits), fishing (Eastern brook trout and pickerel), and winter hiking. And only 3 minutes away from Madison Elementary School, experiential learning abounds. Mike Morin, 43, served as the land trust’s conservation director and assured that Chain of Ponds would become a nature backyard to a lot of local families.

The 20-year land conservationist added: “This site will provide interpretative education, allow us to implement better forest health management practices back into the community, and continue to expand our mission that already includes conserving other forestlands, popular recreation areas, and working farmland." The land trust developed in 2000 as a grassroots initiative to preserve land for community enjoyment and education. Specifically in the watershed of the upper Saco River in both Maine and New Hampshire. The following year it gained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. Within a decade, the land trust preserved 38 land projects, doubling that number by 2019. To date, the trust has conserved more than 12,000 acres in its 11-town service area. Steadily advocating for local agriculture and water quality concerns as part of its mission work. Back at the Chain of Ponds site, the Frozen Chosen breathed in the 40-degree air (unseasonably warm for Northern New Hampshire in early March when 20 degrees is more likely) and trudged along an abandoned rail corridor.

Outdoor Afro community participants Xander Bennett (front) and Keenan Augustus make it a habit to join Fuller's Northeast network activities during the winter months. Photo by Joe Klementovich.

The track once carried traveling skiers from Boston to North Conway, said Morin. Part of the early 20th-century history of Gilded Age hotels like the Omni Mount Washington Resort and the beginning of the ski industry. A train stop to the left of the track brought the Outdoor Afro group to a beaver lodge on Cranberry Bog. Each whipped out their animal track pocket guides provided by the land trust’s Community Steward Carissa Milliman, 39. The former educator equipped the day’s guests with New Hampshire Fish and Game Department wildlife literature. “With this piece of land being so accessible, Chain of Ponds is a great place to connect with nature and find stillness,” said Milliman. Nothing matched the track patterns listed. The group tactfully circled and observed the conical-shaped beaver home. Then moved on. Two more ponds ahead: Blue Ponds and Mack Pond.

Chemical engineer Keenan Augustus, 31, advanced with excitement in his eyes. “You know,” he said with every microspiked step, “these types of activities with Outdoor Afro help me get back to our roots. Black people have always been travelers, explorers, and navigators.” Cold-weather comrade Xander Bennett nodded in agreement. Augustus has participated in Northeast network activities for almost two years now while Bennett entered his first year in 2024. Bennett’s introduction to Outdoor Afro started with an ice climbing event with Fuller earlier this year. Then, uphill skiing. “I previously approached the outdoors from individual activities,” said Bennett. “Mardi and Outdoor Afro have helped me gain the courage to get in this space through group experiences.” The win-win: learning new skills with folks who feel like family.

In Outdoor Afro's 'Year of Innovation," its volunteer leaders offer original network outings that range from animal tracking and foraging to mountaineering and snowshoeing. Photos by Joe Klementovich.

The Chain of Ponds camp took a break bankside for hot tea, snack bars, and more fellowshipping. Sharing favorable reactions to the property. Flashbacking to previous network fun. Already making new Outdoor Afro activity plans. The youngest of the Frozen Chosen, Thai Koenig, 24, dusted snow off her hiking pants, gathered her belongings, and started to lead the band back to the site entrance. But, wait! A scat IDing moment presented itself mid-trip. Was it a red fox? Bobcat? Coyote that traveled their route? The four couldn’t really figure it out from their wildlife scat cards. The majority leaned toward the red fox. Good guesses. “It’s so important to build community like Outdoor Afro does,” said Koenig, all smiles. “Our network is always happy. Mardi makes me feel comfortable and safe while trying something new.”

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.

Outdoor Afro’s Georgia networks offer silver- and small-screen views to capture nature, Southern living

The future naturalist framed up the plant IDing scene with such fervor. Conviction. Even care. Every google-eyed expression and conductor hand gesture queued up plant life. As if it was taking center stage. His soft smile pulled community participants into the Lionel Hampton Greenway Trail. The old-growth storyline voice-overed by Southern hospitality. “So, this is actually turkey tail mushrooms,” said Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Dajawn Williams, 27, “and guess what? It’s edible.” “Edible!” One hiker blurted in the background with an unsure side eye. Williams’ grin deepened with a few promising head nods. Oohs and ahhs then bounced around the forest floor. Promptly, he waved the group of 23 local explorers into a direction of more shocking nature sights along their 2-mile urban wander. This Feb. 10 Black History Month activity taught Atlanta attendees how to recognize special species within their Outdoor Afro network and neighborhood greenspace. The experience also unearthed Black contributions connected to the nature preserve.

To that point, the greenway trail is named after former landowner and famous Black jazz musician Lionel Hampton. Hampton donated much of the right-of-way for the trail during 1993. Designed today for cycling, hiking, agritouring, and picnicking. The historic Black district and site on Atlanta’s west side features the most archaeologically significant Civil War trenches in the region. “This area’s infrastructure included a mill, cemetery for enslaved Black people, and a rock quarry,” said guest speaker, naturalist, and local historian James Tyler. “After the Civil War, Black farmers who lived south of Atlanta moved up to become railroad and mill workers.” Over time, these stories evolved into backdrops to what’s now designated as the “Hollywood of the South.” It’s been more than a decade that metro Atlanta’s mushrooming film and TV industry generated blockbuster momentum. Primarily because of the Peach State’s benevolent tax break.

Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp posing in iconic Surfer Boy Pizza vanagon from Netflix series 'Stranger Things' filmed in Jackson, Georgia. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Major studios popped up and big-budget projects like “The Hunger Games,” “The Walking Dead,” and the Marvel franchise settled into their new Southern home. During 2022, Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” became the highest-grossing movie with a female superhero lead at the U.S. box office – the latest example of the high-earning films attracted to Georgia. In recent times, production opportunities have tapered off for some creatives, too. However, Gov. Brian P. Kemp reassured Georgians that the silver- and small-screen industry is forging ahead: “Georgia remains a global leader in film, TV, and streaming productions,” said Kemp in a Sept. 13, 2023, press release by the Georgia Film Office. “Those who benefit most from the significant growth we’ve seen in this industry over the past couple of decades are hardworking Georgians who fill the many behind-the-camera jobs that come with each project. That’s why we’ve worked hard to attract these and other opportunities for those who call the Peach State home.”


Last year, the state celebrated 50 years of the Georgia Film Office, a strategic post within the Georgia Department of Economic Development that helps mature Georgia's film, TV, and commercial production industries through marketing, scouting, and coordinating project needs. The office reported productions spent $4.1 billion in Georgia during fiscal year 2023. Between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, the state hosted 390 productions, represented by 31 feature films, 55 independent films, 40 commercials, 23 music videos, and 241 TV and episodic productions. Travel an hour and some change south into Middle Georgia where Outdoor Afro participants have the chance to explore newer rural trails, farm life, and film tours later this year. Williams’ next stop: Dauset Trails Nature Center in Jackson, Georgia – a 15-minute ride away from where Netflix's hit sci-fi drama series “Stranger Things” filmed. The nature center provides mountain and e-bike courses; backpacking and camping; and farmstead sightseeing.

Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Dajawn Williams storytells Georgia's ecosystem to Atlanta network participants during a BHM24 plant IDing activity. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Williams linked up with Outdoor Afro’s Founder and CEO Rue Mapp at the nature center. The two went on a site visit to reimagine what foraging, farming, and family-centric activities could look like for his network and others in the organization’s “Year of Innovation.” “I’m continually in awe of the natural resources found in our volunteer networks,” said Mapp. “To visit places like Dauset helps people discover opportunities to reconnect to nature close to home, and be inspired by the natural and human history you can always find in these places.” For 15 years now, Outdoor Afro has celebrated and inspired Black connections and leadership in nature across the United States. The national not-for-profit organization reconnects Black communities to outdoor conservation, recreation, and education through networks located in 60 cities and 32 states, including Washington, D.C. By way of more than 1,200 planned and hosted network activities, volunteer leaders like Williams reintroduce more than 60,000 people to the outdoors annually. “We’re on a journey to reach more rural and urban communities,” Mapp said. “Nature, travel, tourism, and the shows and movies we all grew up on are ways to imagine new connections.”

After Dauset Trails, a truck ride to downtown Jackson (the state’s outdoor capital) zapped Mapp into the make-believe town of Hawkins, Indiana, from the TV show “Stranger Things.” She toured real-life locations, replaying memorable scenes from the series’ Hawkins Library, back alley, and Radio Shack. The coolest Outdoor Afro clip of the day: Mapp propped with a pizza box and visor inside the iconic Surfer Boy Pizza vanagon, a.k.a. Pizzamobile. Headed back south on U.S. Hwy 23, a pitstop to Juliette, Georgia, revisited Cicely Tyson’s role in the 1991 comedy-drama “Fried Green Tomatoes.” Where the movie’s Whistle Stop Cafe is still open for business and serves Southern cuisine – most notably, of course, the menu’s crispy fried green tomatoes. Described in one word: De-lish! The final destination for Mapp’s agritourism and film-guided driving tour traveled 42 miles east along backcountry roads to Milledgeville, Georgia. The fourth capital of the state and where actress Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian, in “Pretty Woman” said she came from. 

Williams and Mapp scouting Dauset Trails Nature Center to identify new network adventures for rural communities to experience innovations in agriculture. Photo by Jenna Shea Photojournalism.

Mapp drove through camera-ready site Central State Hospital. Established in 1842, the campus became known as the “world’s largest mental institution” by the 1960s. It included more than 12,000 patients, 6,000 employees, and more than 8,000 acres of land. By 2010, the dilapidated complex closed. Four years later, “The Originals” (spin-off to The CW Network’s “The Vampire Diaries”) filmed episodes at the hospital. Interestingly, the eerie site still produces a pecan grove that attracts the community, schools, and families to year-round nature activities. “That’s the thing about nature,” said Reginal Black, 59, who joined the Feb. 10 Outdoor Afro plant IDing activity. Black relocated to Atlanta from California to live closer to family. “Nature ties us all back to our local histories and community stories,” he said. “Why I’ve been attending network events like this one with the organization and Rue since 2009.”


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.

What’s new at Outdoor Afro in 2024? Creating community impact starts with these 8 digital ports of call

Can you believe it? Outdoor Afro has nurtured transformative experiences and connections in nature for 15 years now. One thing is for sure: Our national not-for-profit organization reached 2024's "Year of Innovation" because of you. Longstanding and new social followers, loyal supporters, volunteer leaders, community participants, and outdoor partners have contributed to Outdoor Afro's wildest nature dreams to literally come true. Take for instance our participation network. Outdoor Afro's popular, year-round events across U.S. communities inspire approximately 60,000 people to join us annually for customized outdoor activities – family reunion-style.

Then, there’s our swim program, Making Waves. We rounded out 2023 funding more than 1,000 kids and caregivers to learn water safety and basic swimming techniques. Life-saving skills. All thanks to program believers like you. We’ve even certified up to 20 volunteer leaders to guide kayak and canoe trips safely and sustainably within the past two years. Newer community participants are ready for playdates to discover and travel neighborhood waterways for educational enjoyment. That said, a new year means new opportunities to create community impact together. If you don’t know where exactly to start, that’s A-OK. Below are 8 digital ports to join our journey. No matter where you plug in, you’re automatically contributing to our mission work to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. Let’s get started:


Outdoor Afro spans 32 states, including Washington, D.C. Networks are in roughly 60 U.S. cities. Our networks are your instant access to forming new friendships while exploring nature in your neighborhood or surrounding community. Through Outdoor Afro networks, you can participate in everything from group hiking, biking, boating, fishing, foraging, skiing, and paddling. Locate your Outdoor Afro region (Midwest, Northeast, South, or West) using the link below. From there, you can sign up for in-person Meetup events happening monthly. Our selected and trained team of volunteer leaders curate and guide these network adventures. Through Meetup, volunteer leaders keep you posted about event details and upcoming activities. Also, join your network’s designated Facebook page to build community, and continue to learn where exploration awaits with family and friends. CLICK HERE TO SIGN UP.


We love when online guests pay us a visit. Stopping by outdoorafro.org helps you know exactly who we are, what we do in nature, and where we’re heading each year. As mentioned earlier, 2024 rings in our “Year of Innovation.” By clicking through our online home place, you will learn Outdoor Afro’s love story with nature, more about our Founder and CEO Rue Mapp, and the ones who work behind the scenes to ensure we’re fulfilling our mission. Our site also shares current partnerships, community programs, social media campaigns, and real-life stories that support our Black joy experiences taking place across neighborhoods nationwide. Have specific questions about our “why” in nature? Our site is your primary source to connect with the right digital resources. CLICK HERE TO KNOW OUR MISSION.


Nearly 170,000 Outdoor Afro followers like, comment, share, and take action from our social media updates and footage. Our almost daily dose of digital news, announcements, and achievements stem from your support. Our top social platforms include Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and X (formerly known as Twitter). Continuing to celebrate Outdoor Afro’s nature narratives, our genuine content is an opportunity to participate in digital to in-person activities with us and stay on top of organizational developments. Our award-winning Marketing & Communications Department shares powerful visuals and videos that offer fun gateways into outdoor recreation, conservation, and education with ease. CLICK HERE TO CONTACT US.


By signing up for Outdoor Afro’s monthly eNewsletters, you’re getting first dibs about our nature wins. Your free copy is delivered straight to your email inbox, recapping that month’s success stories because of your generous support. Our eNewsletter will also notify you when future professional opportunities within our organization are available. And give you the heads up about upcoming partnerships and programs. Our news and notifications are designed so you can easily digest and keep a timely pulse on our organizational progress. Stay in the know about our community and nature work helping to strengthen relationships with local land, water, and wildlife. In addition to opening new outdoor career and professional development doors for you. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE.


Donating to Outdoor Afro helps us continue to reach our mission, which is to celebrate and inspire Black connections and leadership in nature. No amount is too big or small. Every contribution counts. You’re supporting our year-round programming more than you will ever know. When you donate (better yet, become a recurring donor), Outdoor Afro is able to provide our growing team of volunteer leaders – and the thousands of nature lovers and new adventurers who leaders guide in nature – with wilderness, recreation, and life-saving skills; safe, appropriate gear and equipment; free or discounted access to private outdoor spaces; and access to historical and civic information you can use to take care of the public and community spaces you love. When you donate, our Making Waves program can provide more kids and caregivers new opportunities to learn how to swim, save a loved one’s life, and leverage local resources – public swimming pools, beaches, rivers, and lakes. When you donate, we’re able to help neighborhoods expand outdoor recreational activities that become instrumental in pursuing healthier, joyful lifestyles. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.


It’s warmth that welcomes nature conversations with family and friends. Our co-branded shirt collection with Oakland-based partner Oaklandish comes with comfort for any and all outdoor adventures. The collection includes our signature short-sleeve shirts (in black and white), long-sleeve shirts (in black only), and hoodies (in black only). The fun part: The style options range from business slay to backpacker play. The bonus: Every purchase you make goes toward our charitable, not-for-profit work. CLICK HERE TO SHOP.


We’re always open to forming meaningful relationships with people, communities, initiatives, and brands that share the same values we have about reconnecting Black people and Black communities to nature. Our amazing new and deep-rooted partnerships have helped our organization elevate and innovate for the past 15 years in the outdoors. Brands like REI Co-op, KEEN, CLIF® Bar, ENO, and Smartwool have become influential collaborators to educate new audiences about the collective difference we make across the United States. Introduce our audiences and readers to new outdoor products and services that benefit our neighborhoods. To learn more about our current partnership tiers, email [email protected] today. CLICK HERE TO VIEW COLLABORATORS.


The truth is: We’re confronted by gloom-and-doom headlines daily. The good news is that Outdoor Afro produces happy clappy content monthly that will leave you feeling so fuzzy wuzzy about tapping into the outdoors and pursuing healthier lifestyles. We produce original narratives so you’re honestly informed about people, places, and things tied to our mission work. Outdoor Afro’s blog features cover personal essays; product and partner reviews; insider nature knowledge; and human interest stories that salute the pioneering paths Black people and Black communities have carved out within the outdoor industry. From big cities to small towns. Our community programs and content have traveled the globe. Piqued the interest of media mogul Oprah Winfrey to tennis icon Venus Williams – who both have participated in our network activities. Our stories reinforce the Black experience in nature from an asset-framing lens. National to international media outlets like CBS, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel Weekly, AFAR, and Essence Magazine are a few prominent publications that have highlighted our organization throughout the past decade. CLICK HERE TO ACCESS STORIES.

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. Follow Outdoor Afro @outdoorafro and outdoorafro.org.

Outdoor Afro opens enrollment for 2024-2025 cohort of nature innovators in neighborhoods nationwide

National not-for-profit organization Outdoor Afro seeks new volunteer leaders to lead local activities that creatively reconnect U.S. neighborhoods to land, water, and wildlife. “The Outdoor Afro volunteer leader is a truly unique community leadership role that has attracted scientists, athletes, farmers, foragers, artists, animal lovers, and adventurers passionate about sharing their expertise,” said Outdoor Afro’s Chief Program & Innovation Officer DD Johnice. “So if you love being out in nature – and crafting unforgettable experiences for friends, family, and your community – join us.” Annually, the organization continues to expand and recruit new volunteer leaders.

For the 2024-2025 cohort year, Outdoor Afro is in pursuit of nature pioneers who care about and have expertise in outdoor recreation; actively engage in lifestyle activities (biking, hiking, trail running, fishing, foraging, farming, watersports) and; want to share their joy and knowledge with Black people in their local community. Outdoor Afro searches for outdoor creatives, educators, and explorers in the following locations: Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Asheville, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Dallas, Texas; San Antonio, Texas; Austin, Texas; Houston Texas; Iowa; Wisconsin; Columbus, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; Tallahassee, Florida; Portland, Oregon; Chicago-NW Indiana, Illinois; and Atlanta, Georgia.


“Outdoor Afro’s volunteer leaders have been incredible stewards of our almost 15-year mission of inspiring and celebrating Black connections and leadership in nature,” said Outdoor Afro’s Program Strategy & Growth Manager Gina Wright. “Through this leadership opportunity, our organization makes sure these outdoor innovators are able to grow their risk management skills; gain access to modern gear and equipment; and participate in our meaningful partnerships to strengthen relationships to nature.”

Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders also receive opportunities to experience free or discounted admission to national parks; contribute to national media stories about the organization; and access annual training at secluded retreat spaces. Once selected, volunteer leaders attend Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (nicknamed OALT) held each year in April at a private nature location in the United States. During this signature training dubbed the brand’s “most wonderful time of the year,” OALT equips volunteer leaders with essential tools to guide their local communities in nature sustainably and safely. 

The training is organized by staff and experienced volunteers who share Outdoor Afro’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 practices. New leaders learn how to center joy in the outdoors while also disrupting a false perception that Black people do not have a relationship to nature.

Outdoor Afro formed nearly 15 years ago with the mission of celebrating and inspiring Black connections and leadership in nature. The organization established OALT in 2012. With just a dozen volunteer outdoor enthusiasts, OALT became an opportunity for each to take the call and digest directly from Outdoor Afro’s Founder and CEO Rue Mapp. Her nature calling: teaching outdoor innovators how to inspire and guide unforgettable experiences in the outdoors. Are you the next open-air expert Outdoor Afro is looking for?


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. Follow Outdoor Afro @outdoorafro and outdoorafro.org.

Outdoor Retailer recognizes Outdoor Afro volunteer leader

North America’s largest outdoor industry trade show, Outdoor Retailer, held its 13th annual Inspiration Awards to honor influential professionals, innovators, and explorers during its June 20 ceremony held in Salt Lake City, Utah. Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Alma Busby-Williams, 58, became one of three finalists in the award’s “Individual Category” – celebrating that one person who has motivated and inspired others to enjoy, participate in, and support outdoor activities. “When I got the phone call from Outdoor Retailer, I was shocked,” said Busby-Williams, a five-year Outdoor Afro volunteer leader, with a Cheshire Cat grin.

Outdoor Retailer’s Communications & Content Director Lisa Ramsperger surprised Busby-Williams with the news and open invitation to participate in its Summer Show 2023. Busby-Williams had just returned to her Olympia, Washington, home after attending Outdoor Afro Leadership Training (OALT) – the national not-for-profit’s annual April experience that took place in Bainbridge, Washington, this year – when Ramsperger ringed. OALT educates more than 100 volunteer leaders how to guide their communities in nature sustainably and safely. A compelling piece to Busby-Williams’ nature work and awards nomination.

Busby-Williams instantly said “yes.” She flew to the June 19 through June 21 show that flooded the Salt Palace Convention Center with nearly 200 new exhibitors. Dubbed “where new happens,” Outdoor Retailer’s Summer Show 2023 invites exhibitors to debut their latest in outdoor products and services. The show also offers networking and business opportunities for retailers, designers, media, nonprofit organizations, and industry leaders across the globe.  As part of the show, the Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards celebrates those like Busby-Williams who naturally motivate people to get outside.

Quentin Humphrey (left), head of client engagement + creative strategist at WGSN Insight, discusses what will drive brand loyalty by 2025. Photo by Kevin Dantes.

The awards took place at the Hyatt Regency’s Salt Lake Ballroom and recognized five categories of outdoor influencers and inventive products/services within the industry: emerging leader, manufacturer, retailer, nonprofit, and individual. In the “Individual Category,” Busby-Williams joined finalists Will "Akuna" Robinson (Triple Crown thru-hiker and 2022 George Mallory award recipient) and Becky Rom (volunteer national chair of Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters and retired attorney), which Rom won. “To just be in this number and space was a win for me,” said Busby-Williams.

The official publication of Outdoor Retailer, The Daily Guide, featured all finalists from the five categories. Each one of their stories lit up the ceremony stage. Moved some attendees to tears, especially Busby-Williams’ outdoor journey. Busby-Williams joined Outdoor Afro as a volunteer leader in 2018. Guiding her then Charleston, South Carolina, network on hiking trails that uplifted local Black history. In 2020, her career moved the outdoorswoman to Portland then Seattle in 2021.  At both locations, she continued to host Outdoor Afro network activities and take her newer neighborhood participants to nearby national parks.

But go back a decade, and that’s when her connection to nature really flowered. A mom of two and age 43 in 2009, Busby-Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer.  “For some reason, I didn’t feel like it was my time,” she said. “I had more to do.” She prayed over it. Many a day. Discovered relief through the outdoors. Intentionally breathing and taking in her natural surroundings. A year later, breast cancer free. 

In between education sessions, Outdoor Retailer attendees divide time to research new brands of interest. Photo by Kevin Dantes.

Now Busby-Williams takes those moments and leadership skills learned through Outdoor Afro to introduce and explore local lands, waters, and wildlife with community participants. When attendees leave an Outdoor Afro network activity, they do so with peace and healing. Busby-Williams’ approach to reconnecting them to nature. She hosts mostly hiking activities that include miles of breathing techniques and fellowshipping.

Full time, she serves as director of inclusion and community partnerships of the North Cascades Institute. She uses her legal education to work for various nonprofits, serving marginalized populations as well. Previously, she worked as interim executive director of Youth and Family Services and deputy director of Prescott Joseph Center. Along with her volunteer leader post with Outdoor Afro, Busby-Williams is a member of the National Park Conservation Association’s Northwest Regional Council, Breast Cancer Action Board, Recreation Conservation Association’s Trail Advisory Committee, and Washington Parks National Fund Board.

Busby-Williams continues Outdoor Afro’s long-standing history with Outdoor Retailer.  Outdoor Afro Founder and CEO Rue Mapp has participated in the trade show for 11 years. Prior to Busby-Williams’ recognition, Outdoor Afro won the show’s then 2013 Outdoor Industry Association Outdoor Inspiration Awards.  “Experiences like Outdoor Retailer remind me that nature is everywhere – so are the ones doing this important work,” said the veteran volunteer leader. “The opportunity to inspire those around us is right there in front of us. It’s why I love volunteering for organization’s like Outdoor Afro."

Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Alma Busby-Williams on the Outdoor Retailer Summer Show 2023 floor. Photo by Kevin Dantes.

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 more than 60 cities. Its network participation reaches 60,000 people annually. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with nature through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow Outdoor Afro at outdoorafro.org and @outdoorafro today.

ABOUT OUTDOOR RETAILER: Outdoor Retailer, the leading U.S. business events for the outdoor and winter sports industry, brings together retailers, manufacturers, designers, distributors, industry advocates, journalists, and more to conduct the business of outdoor recreation through commerce, unique product experiences, dedicated media events, content, and web-based business solutions. Outdoor Retailer provides critical platforms for face-to-face commerce, product launches, networking, and focused industry education to enhance business and support the outdoor recreation economy. Visit outdoorretailer.com for more information. 

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.

Why a training is Outdoor Afro's 'most wonderful time of year'

Hold it in the same regard as a family reunion. By design, booked in nature. Outdoor Afro Leadership Training’s itinerary weaves in traditional reunion experiences: the initial meet-and-greet, park picnics, historical nature tours, and that closing banquet (Soul Train line included) to celebrate one another before departing. Nicknamed OALT, the now 11-year learning event hosted by national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro takes place Friday, April 28, to Sunday, April 30 in Bainbridge, Washington.

“This year our training welcomes 21 new volunteer leaders and 82 returning ones,” said Outdoor Afro’s National Program Director Chaya Harris. Leaders will assemble at IslandWood, a 250-acre campus on Bainbridge Island, with staff, board members, and select partners. The annual training hosts both veteran and Class of 2023 leaders for customized, educational moments to understand Outdoor Afro’s brand story and teach these nature navigators how to guide their neighborhoods sustainably and safely in modern times.

When Outdoor Afro Leadership Team applications opened November 2022, the organization received 98 submissions to become a 2023 volunteer leader. The word of mouth about the transformative opportunity traveled fast across the United States. At OALT, the organization shares its values, framework, and best practices to host and lead outdoor activities with volunteers. These 21st-century leaders also gain industry scholarship in areas such as health impacts on nature, basics to trip planning, conservation ethics, effective social media storytelling strategies, and risk management.

“It’s really a hands-on, interactive training,” said Harris. “Designed to enhance our volunteers skills as facilitators, we provide a range of workshops – from risk mitigation to easy steps for brewing your favorite coffee or tea while in the outdoors – all with a Black joy focus.” April 2022, the training massed in Granby, Colorado, at Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountains. TikTok-qualifying trails, snow-blanketed mountaintops, and lush wildlife girdled the professional development days that followed. In unison with Earth Day’s “Invest in Our Planet” charge, OALT 2023 explores and localizes outdoor conservation, recreation, and education conversations.

Outdoor Afro invites expert guest speakers and designated partners to the training to share field insights and encouragement to volunteer leaders. After training, leaders originate and host monthly network activities that foster local program collaborations and help strengthen neighborhood relationships with land, wildlife, and water. Yearlong, leaders plan and shepherd nature-rich experiences like fishing, backpacking, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, gardening, skiing, horseback riding, nature journaling, geocaching, biking, bird watching, and more. Network events nationwide center joy and healing while also disrupting a false perception that Black people do not have a relationship to nature.

Outdoor Afro formed 14 years ago. OALT established in 2012 with just a dozen volunteer outdoor enthusiasts. Each took the call to learn directly from Founder and CEO Rue Mapp about how to inspire and guide unforgettable experiences in nature. “We now have 35 networks nationwide with three new ones in Kansas City, Missouri; Norfolk, Virginia; and Burlington, Vermont,” Harris said. “A truly intergenerational group, our volunteers range in age from their 20s to their 60s. All eager to guide their neighborhoods in nature this year.”

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 with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities. “Where Black people and nature meet,” Outdoor Afro impacts more than 60,000 people annually in nature through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Visit outdoorafro.org and @outdoorafro to learn more.

*illustrations by Dajah Callen

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.

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.” 

Outdoor Afro's Paddle Camp returns, doubles participation

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – An increasingly popular on-the-water experience for Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders is about to go into summer class again. Paddle Camp 2022 — in collaboration with boating and fishing equipment brand Northwest River Supplies, Inc. (NRS) — takes place July 30 through Aug. 6 on Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.

“It’s so fulfilling to help guide our volunteer leaders in activities that continue to strengthen our community connections to water,” said Chaya Harris, Outdoor Afro’s National Program Director. “Paddle Camp is an opportunity to teach proper paddling techniques and water safety so that our volunteers can take these lessons back into their neighborhoods.” 

With the support and expertise of NRS, camp engagement increased from 10 Outdoor Afro volunteer leaders in 2021 to now 20 volunteers wanting to learn boating skills that will help them better navigate and explore local waters. The seven-day summer session will include 10 canoers and 10 kayakers taking in-class and lakeside courses at St. Michael’s College outside of Burlington. Each volunteer will take away invaluable training, earning a Level I or Level II kayaking or canoeing certification through the American Canoe Association


“Breaking down barriers to the outdoors is about creating opportunities for people to develop the skills and knowledge they need to get outside safely and enjoyably,” said NRS Chief Marketing Officer Mark Deming. “We’re thrilled to be able to support this effort to prepare volunteer leaders from Outdoor Afro to share their love of the water with people in their home communities.”      


Paddle Camp prepares volunteers to become certified canoeing and kayaking instructors. The camp is led by NRS ambassador, accredited paddling instructor, and outdoor school leader Todd Johnstone-Wright. Prior to last year’s Paddle Camp, Harris also became a certified instructor under Johnstone-Wright’s instruction and helped lead the inaugural Outdoor Afro volunteer leader cohort.

“Todd does an amazing job uplifting everyone as a fully capable learner while also honoring the knowledge and experience each participant brings,” Harris said, “no matter how minimal their skill sets may be at the start of camp.” Once camp completes, volunteer leaders are expected to host at least three post-camp activities in their respective communities across the United States. During 2021, volunteers exceeded this expectation, said Harris.

That year, up to 109 people learned how to paddle — as well as general paddle safety — after volunteers hosted follow-up paddling activities in their local communities.  Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Antonio Simmons participated in the 2021 cohort. “I never imagined going into this camp that I would have an experience I thoroughly enjoyed the way that I did,” said the Delaware, Maryland, and Vermont network leader. “I came away with so many new tools.”

Harris anticipates volunteer leader participation and the overall community impact becoming something even bigger after this year’s camp. Paddle Camp is just one of many professional development opportunities Outdoor Afro offers. The network's now 117 volunteers are able to expand their leadership and outdoor safety acumen within the industry through local events, national conferences, and seasonal expeditions. 

Annually, Outdoor Afro trains a select group of applicants to participate in its Outdoor Afro Leadership Training or OALT. This training equips volunteers with the essential outdoor proficiency to guide local communities in nature sustainably and safely. Paddle Camp is just another beneficial possibility that allows volunteers to build their nature portfolio. After successfully finishing the 2022 course, volunteers will have much to applaud alongside NRS, which celebrates 50 years in the business. Established in 1972 by business professor Bill Parks, NRS is the leading manufacturer of paddlesports equipment and apparel with a mission to empower adventures on the water. 

In addition to creating boating gear, NRS is committed to preserving access to on-the-water recreation and to promoting stewardship of wild places. The brand works closely with national organizations and local groups throughout the world to help care for rivers, lakes, and oceans. “I was able to achieve my three classes in the DMV network last year as a result of Paddle Camp,” said Simmons. “Some people had never been kayaking, so seeing the joy and excitement on their faces as their fear of the water went away was thrilling and eye-opening.”

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 with network participation reaching 60,000 people. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow Outdoor Afro on social @outdoorafro today.

ABOUT NRS: NRS is 100-percent employee-owned and is the world’s leading supplier of equipment and apparel for water recreation, safety, and rescue. Founded in 1972 with a vision to create a better kind of company, NRS is dedicated to promoting the health and well-being of its customers, employees, and community. For more information about NRS, visit nrs.com, @nrsweb, or call 877-677-4327.