Why We Need Public Transit to Public Lands

guest blog by Katherine Garcia and Jackie Ostfeld, originally posted on the Sierra Club blog

Photo by iStock/Oleksandr Filon

If you look for directions from Washington, D.C. to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park on Google Maps, it will chart a route for your car down to the minute. If you try to find that same route via public transit, you don’t get a detailed route, or any route at all — you get an error message. This isn’t a glitch. It’s an all-too-common problem that prevents many from getting outdoors.

When we talk about barriers to accessing public lands, common culprits include expensive entrance fees, a lack of gear, or a lack of experience or perceived safety. While those barriers are real, they assume there’s a way you can get to the parks in the first place. What if you don’t own a car? For too many people, the barriers begin before they get out the door. 

Nearly one-third of people in the U.S. live more than a 10-minute walk from a community park. Green space in our cities is distributed unfairly and inequitably due to years of racist land-use practices like redlining, which has left many frontline communities to disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental degradation like polluted air and water and the impacts of climate change like the urban heat island effect.

For many people, access to local parks and green spaces is further hampered or nonexistent due to the limitations of public transit. Many of our public lands are only accessible by private vehicles. However, the percentage of Black, Latinx, and lower-income families who do not have access to a car is more than twice as high as white and higher-income families. Without a car, it’s practically impossible for many communities to make the most of the health benefits and enjoyment provided by nature access.

With inadequate public transit, too many people are denied the positive benefits of spending time outdoors in nature. Studies consistently show that time spent outdoors has a positive impact on physical and mental health, and one study showed that even 20 minutes spent in a park can help a child concentrate better in school. As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we will need the benefits that nature bestows more than ever, and right now they’re inaccessible to too many people.

A bill working its way through Congress could help jumpstart the process of dismantling these barriers and bring the benefits of nature to those who have been denied them for so long. The Transit to Trails Act, sponsored by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), would direct millions of dollars to support expanding transit links between our public lands and green spaces and our communities nationwide. If this bill is passes, it would be an important step towards making sure our public lands — national parks, monuments, forests, seashores, wild & scenic rivers, historic sites — aren’t exclusively the domain of people with the means or desire to own a car. 

Passing the Transit to Trails Act would be a milestone achievement, but our efforts can’t stop there. We need not only to ensure that our public lands are more accessible, but also to ensure that all people have access to nature and green spaces near their homes, and clean and affordable transportation, and a liveable planet that belongs to all of us. 

The Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign is working to improve options for zero-emission public transit powered by renewable energy, as well as changing land use for more transit-accessible communities. Our Sierra Club Outdoors for All campaign is working to ensure that everyone can access the healing power of the outdoors, because access to nature is a human right. We’re united in working to ensure that everyone, not just people of privilege, can experience the outdoors through affordable, accessible, and reliable transit.

Access to parks and green spaces without owning a car is a problem, but it’s a problem with a clear solution. We play a pivotal role in developing sustainable and just solutions necessary to stop the climate crisis, the biodiversity/extinction crisis, and damage to our public lands and waters. Upgrading our public transit systems, from increasing the number of routes to using pollution-free buses, will help millions more people all across the country to access the healing power of the outdoors, while simultaneously slashing carbon emissions in the process, distributing the benefits of nature more equitably as we take on one of the greatest challenge of our time. 

Katherine Garcia is the Acting Director for the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign.
See more stories by this author

Jackie Ostfeld is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign, and Founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.
See more stories by this author

Interior Announces $150 Million for Increasing Park Access in Urban Areas – So What Does That Mean for Youth and Families?

Today, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced $150 million in funding for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s newly-released America the Beautiful initiative. Since 2014, ORLP (a program of the Land and Water Conservation Fund) funding has enabled urban communities to create new outdoor recreation spaces, reinvigorate existing parks, and support connections between people and nature in economically underserved communities.

OAK is thrilled to see ORLP get the support for which we’ve been advocating since the program’s inception. At $150 million, this is the most funding the program has ever offered, a huge testament to the tireless work of OAK’s members, partners and supporters. So what does this historic investment mean for children, youth and families?

 According to this 2020 special report from OAK member Trust for Public Land (TPL), more than 100 million people – including 28 million children – do not have a park within a 10-minute walk of home. Even when kids do have access to parks, the quality and size of the park varies greatly by who lives in the surrounding community; another study from TPL in 2020 showed that parks serving primarily nonwhite populations are half the size of parks that serve majority white populations – and they’re five times more crowded.

This disparity has been especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, with families desperate for a reprieve from isolation indoors, seeking out their close-to-home outdoor spaces. That’s why the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program is so critical. As one of the very few grant programs that focuses on providing resources specifically for underserved urban areas, it’s a critical lifeline for communities looking to improve outdoor access for all families.

This funding will allow communities to:

  • Acquire land to build new parks (or expand existing ones) that meet the needs of children and families in the community.
  • Improve park features like playgrounds, including by making them safer and more accessible for children and caregivers with disabilities.
  • Hire staff to provide programming for children and keep the parks and facilities clean and maintained.

As Secretary Haaland put it in her announcement of this funding earlier today, “Every child in America deserves to have a safe and nearby place to experience the great outdoors.”  


OAK is excited to see the difference this round of ORLP funding makes for communities across the country, and to continue working with Congress and the Administration to build a future in which every child is able to safely explore and develop relationships with the natural world.

Watch: Rep. Katie Porter and daughter Betsy talk Every Kid Outdoors!

We love this great video from Congresswoman Katie Porter, who shares with her rising fourth grader, Betsy, that they’re going on a vacation to a surprise destination: Zion National Park! Thanks to the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) program, all fourth graders – including Betsy – and their families get FREE entry to any national park for an entire year. As Rep. Porter proves, it’s a great incentive to plan a family trip to explore the outdoors.

After a year spent inside quarantining, kids, youth and families need access to the outdoors more than ever, and the Every Kid Outdoors program is helping to make it possible. Entrance fees to national parks can be pretty expensive, so the pass is a great perk that helps families of all backgrounds to visit their public lands and waters.

Every Kid Outdoors is an amazing program, and that’s why OAK has been working to expand its reach by asking Congress to fund the Every Kid Outdoors program at $25 million. Investing in EKO now will support program staffing for park agencies and youth-serving nonprofits and would subsidize the high costs for transporting students (especially those from low-income and disabled communities) to public lands and waters.

Congresswoman Katie Porter agrees with us, and along with EKO champions Congressman Joe Neguse and Congresswoman Diana DeGette, sent a letter to their colleagues in Congress asking for full funding for the Every Kid Outdoors program. Check out the letter here!

Have an amazing time at Zion National Park, Congresswoman Porter, Betsy, and family! Thanks for being an incredible advocate for Every Kid Outdoors.

Act Now to Support Funding for Every Kid Outdoors!

An audio recording will give you instructions before you’re patched through to your member of Congress.

Since, 2015, the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) program has provided fourth graders with a pass so they and their families can gain free entry to federal public land and water sites. Now, this program needs funding to ensure it can reach kids that need outdoor access more than ever. 

EKO gives children an opportunity to learn American history and develop a lifelong love for nature, while giving their families an affordable outing and driving commerce to parks and the surrounding communities. However, EKO has never received sufficient funding to reach the four million fourth graders a year that qualify for the pass.

Today’s kids already spent less time outdoors than any other generation, and this issue has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. Now more than ever, we need to increase access to the outdoors and the mental and physical health benefits it provides. That’s why OAK has been asking Congress to fund the Every Kid Outdoors program at $25 million. Investing in EKO now will enable program staffing for public land and water agencies and youth-serving nonprofit organizations, and would subsidize the high costs for transporting students (especially those from low-income and disabled communities) to public lands and waters.

Congresswoman Katie Porter agrees with us, and along with EKO champions Congressman Joe Neguse and Congresswoman Diana DeGette, is submitting a request called a Dear Colleague letter*, asking other members of Congress to support $25 million in funding for the Every Kid Outdoors program. 

We need your help! Call your U.S. representative and ask them to sign on to Congresswoman Porter’s Dear Colleague letter to fund Every Kid Outdoors. It only takes a minute to make a huge impact for youth outdoor access.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Call 1-877-7448907
  2. You’ll hear an audio recording from Jayni Rasmussen, Senior Campaign Representative for the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, who will give you instructions.
  3. Follow the recorded instructions to be patched through to your U.S. representative’s office!
  4. You can tell your U.S. representative whatever you’d like! However, we suggest saying:
    • “I’m a constituent and advocate for youth outdoor access! Please sign on to Congresswoman Porter’s Dear Colleague letter to fund the Every Kid Outdoors program at $25 million.”
  5. Hang up, say, “Hey, that was easy!” and feel great about helping to get #EveryKidOutdoors.
  6. Ask your friends to call, too!

Call 1-887-774-8907 to be connected to your U.S. representative’s office!

Before you’re patched through, an audio recording will give you instructions.

If you have questions or if calling in isn’t accessible for you, please reach out to jayni.rasmussen@sierraclub.org. She’ll be glad to help you!

Fatima’s Great Outdoors

In Case You Missed It: Watch the Recording of Fatima’s Great Outdoors Storytime Live Event 

By: Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Co-Chair and Founder and Jayni Rasmussen, OAK Senior Campaign Representative

Note: Book cover courtesy of Penguin Kids and screenshot from livestream with author Ambreen Tariq. Photo originally posted on Sierra Magazine‘s blog on 4/8/21.

Last week, Penguin Kids and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) hosted a storytime book reading and conversation with Ambreen Tariq, author of a new children’s book, Fatima’s Great Outdoors! The discussion and Q&A, moderated by OAK Co-Chair and Founder Jackie Ostfeld, focused on getting more kids out in nature, as well as the importance of making the outdoors a place where everyone can see themselves.

Fatima’s Great Outdoors is the story of “an immigrant family embarking on their first camping trip in the Midwest.” Ambreen is also the founder of Brown People Camping, a social media initiative focused on personal narratives and storytelling to promote greater diversity and representation on our public lands and in nature.

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the recording of this fun storytime live event, featuring OAK’s Jackie Ostfeld moderating a live Q&A with the author, Ambreen Tariq. 

If the embedded video isn’t showing up for you, click here to access the recording.

It’s Great to Be a 4th Grader

A perspective on exploring national parks with the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) pass as a military family.

By Andrew and Hannah Pike

As long-time Northern Virginia (NoVA) residents, our family is fortunate to be located near a myriad of landmarks and sources of natural beauty.  A 30-minute weekend drive gets us to the National Mall in Washington, D.C and within 45-minutes we can visit Great Falls National Park in McLean, VA.

We’ve lived here for 15 years and even with multiple national parks close by, we never visited one until our youngest son entered 4th grade this year. We learned of the Every Kid Outdoors (EKO) program last year during a meeting with the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK). The EKO pass is a great way and a free way for fourth graders and their families to visit national parks, which can be challenging even in the best of times. Unfortunately, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has prevented many families from visiting these iconic spots. We’re lucky we live close to so many easily accessible parks, which allowed us to avoid crowds during our visit this past fall.

The Pike family stops at a scenic viewpoint along Skyline Drive. Photo courtesy of the Pike family.

One of our first journeys beyond the public green spaces within our community was a 90-minute drive to Shenandoah National Park in Luray, VA.  With 516 miles of hiking trails, four campgrounds and 1,046 native plants, there is too much to do and see in a day, so we decided to take in the views from Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the park.  With autumn settling in and the leaves changing color, we stopped at a dozen of the scenic overlooks to take in the spectacular views, and with so many stops to absorb the scenery, we only explored a fraction of Skyline Drive. Following Skyline Drive was a great way for us to enjoy a small part of Shenandoah National Park during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Pike family enjoys the scenery at Shenandoah National Park. Photo courtesy of the Pike family.

Andrew grew up as a military kid and lived in six different African countries and five different state-side military bases. National parks and natural wonders were something his family visited regularly. Most military kids move anywhere from six to nine times before they turn 18 and often have to reinvest in a new area and make new friends each time. While moving regularly can have its disruptions, the ability to explore new areas and regions is a great benefit. Every new place has something to offer and beauty waiting to be discovered. The EKO pass is a great way for military families to explore this beauty. 

But it’s not only military families who benefit from spending time outdoors — we all do. The physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature are undeniable, and that has only become more clear during the pandemic. The EKO pass is a great tool for expanding access to nature and its benefits, and it is so important that those benefits be available to everyone.

The stunning natural beauty of Great Falls National Park in Virginia. Photo courtesy of the Pike family.

This winter, we are already looking ahead to 2021 and the parks we will visit.  It has been almost as much fun watching the kids discover all the natural beauty in our region as it has been to visit the parks. The pride in our 4th grader’s eyes when he presented his pass to the park ranger makes us smile every time we talk about it. He was so excited that he immediately told his best friend about it. His family also downloaded the EKO pass and took the Skyline Drive trip the following week.

With the weather warming, our next destination is still undecided, but we love that the journey has been as much fun as the destination. From my family to yours, thank you to the Outdoors Alliance for Kids for all the hard work and dedication that goes into making this incredible opportunity accessible to families like mine.

Note from OAK: How did your family get outdoors this year, and what outdoor activities are you planning when it’s safe to do so? We’d love to hear from you and feature you on the OAK blog. If you have a story to share, reach out to Jayni Rasmussen at jayni.rasmussen@sierraclub.org.

RELEASE: OAK Statement on House Passage of Outdoors for All Act in Public Lands Package

“PAW+” Act Protects Public Lands, Promotes Outdoors Equity

Friday, February 26, 2021
Contact: Ian Brickey (202) 675-6270 or ian.brickey@sierraclub.org

OAK Statement on Passage of Outdoors for All Act in Public Lands Package

“PAW+” Act Protects Public Lands, Promotes Outdoors Equity

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Today, the United States House of Representatives passed the Outdoors for All Act as part of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act— a package of conservation bills that will collectively protect public lands and expand nearby nature access across the country. If passed, the Outdoors for All Act would permanently authorize the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership (ORLP) program, which is the only program administered by the Department of the Interior to promote the development of equity-focused parks and green space projects in urban communities. 

In response, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids Founder & Chair Jackie Ostfeld released the following statement:

“We welcome today’s vote to advance the Outdoors for All Act. 

“The benefits of the outdoors, from improving health and wellness to increasing economic activity, are universal. Sadly, access to the outdoors is not. Many kids and families, especially those from low-income communities and Black and brown communities, do not have the same access to parks and green spaces as wealthier and whiter families minutes away. ORLP is essential to addressing that equity gap to ensure all children, regardless of zip code, can benefit from access to the outdoors.

We urge the Senate to act quickly and send it to President Biden’s desk.”


About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth, and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct, and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than 100 businesses and organizations to address the growing divide between children, youth, and the outdoors. 

Join us for OAK Week 2021!

OAK Week 2021 is February 16 – 18! Although we can’t be together in DC this year, we’re looking forward to connecting with OAK members, prospective members and partners over an exciting week of virtual sessions, workshops and networking events. 

About OAK Week

OAK Week, which includes OAK’s Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day, serves as a dynamic, energizing venue for OAK members and partners to connect and network as well as collaborate on and invest in OAK campaigns. This year, OAK’s Annual Meeting will be held across two days, spaced to accommodate virtual conference engagement, and will include networking opportunities. The final day will be a federal advocacy day and training, during which OAK members will make our collective voices heard in the (virtual) halls of Congress.

Who Attends OAK Week?

OAK Week is primarily for OAK members and partners, but we also welcome representatives of organizations interested in joining OAK! OAK members will receive invitations to OAK Week activities through emails and the shared calendar. If you’re interested in joining us for our virtual OAK Week 2021, please reach out to Jayni Rasmussen, OAK Senior Campaign Representative, at jayni.rasmussen@sierraclub.org.

If you’re an OAK supporter and you’re interested in lifting up OAK’s mission during OAK Week 2021, be sure to follow along via social media! Scroll down for more details.

What’s Going on at OAK Week 2021?

  • OAK’s 2021 Biden and Harris Transition Recommendations: Join us as we present OAK’s final recommendations for the Biden/Harris Administration and weigh in on our federal policy priorities for 2021.
  •  #EveryKidOutdoors – Advancing OAK’s Mission to Connect Children, Youth and Families to the Outdoors: Share your input on how to continue the momentum on OAK’s federal policy successes, including our victories around Every Kid Outdoors, over the past decade, by advancing our federal, state, and local policy work and campaigns such as Every Kid Outdoors in State Parks campaign. 
  • Discussion with Dr. Carolyn Finney: Dr. Carolyn Finney is a storyteller, author and cultural geographer working to increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action. Join us for a conversation with Dr. Finney on racial equity and connecting children, youth and families to the outdoors.
  • Networking Reception: Join us for a networking reception, kicked off by some of our incredible youth advocates – Robbie Bond of Kids Speak for Parks, Junior Ranger Tigran Nahabedian, and Lily Kay, Every Kid Outdoors in State Parks champion in Texas – with breakout groups to meet and connect with OAK members and partners.

  • OAK Racial Equity Workshop: This workshop is first in a series of courageous conversations to examine the ways in which OAK operates and is structured that may reinforce characteristics of white supremacy culture; and identify ways to decenter whiteness and move towards anti-racist policies, practices, and behaviors. This workshop will focus on developing alignment and a shared understanding across OAK members and partners on how white supremacy culture characteristics and traits show up in our day-to-day interactions.
  • Workshop: Youth Outdoor Policy Playbook: OAK is in its third year participating in an exciting partnership coordinated by the Meridian Institute with partners at the North American Association of Environmental Educators (NAAEE), Children & Nature Network (C&NN) and the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL). Learn about the Youth Outdoor Policy Playbook, a tool to help legislators and community leaders advance state policies that support getting kids outdoors, then weigh in on critical next steps, including policy and partnership ideas that support outdoor learning during COVID-19 and beyond.
  • OAK Action Team Open House: Learn about the OAK National Policy Action Team, which handles federal policy, funding and programs, and the OAK State and Local Action Team, which handles state, local and regional policy, funding and programs (such as Every Kid Outdoors in State Parks) and how you can join as a member or step into a leadership role.

Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill: Starting with a training, participants will join their team leads from the OAK National Policy Action Team on virtual meetings with Congressional staff to advocate for OAK federal policy priorities.

Share Your OAK Week Experience!

Whether you’re an OAK member, partner or supporter, be sure to share your OAK Week 2021 experience by following OAK’s social media handles on Facebook and Twitter!

You can also signal-boost OAK’s shared work by posting on your organization’s or individual social media accounts, using the hashtags #OAKWeek and #EveryKidOutdoors. For social graphics and sample Facebook and Twitter posts, click here.

RELEASE: After Pressure, Interior Extends Every Kid Outdoors Pass

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Contact: Ian Brickey (314) 238-6766 or ian.brickey@sierraclub.org

After Pressure, Interior Extends Every Kid Outdoors Pass
Outside Groups Had Asked for Extension Since August Expiration

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, October 28, the Department of the Interior announced plans to extend the 2019-2020 Every Kid Outdoors pass into 2021. The move comes after environmental and youth recreation groups launched a campaign for the department to extend the pass for fourth graders and families that could not visit public lands and waters due to closings instigated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a victory for fourth graders and families across the country,” said Jackie Ostfeld, director of Sierra Club’s Outdoors for All campaign and founder of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids. “After months of inaction, Interior has finally responded to our calls to extend the program so no child misses an opportunity to visit our beautiful national parks because of COVID-19. Extending the EKO pass means that our kids and families will be able to find respite and health on our public lands and waters, right when they need it most. Thank you to all the members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, and thousands of advocates, who helped secure this important victory.” 

The EKO pass offers fourth graders and their families free admission to public lands and waters. The 2019-2020 pass expired on August 31, preventing many families from accessing national parks due to state-level stay-at-home orders and closures of many national parks facilities.

The Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) launched a public campaign to encourage Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to extend the pass into 2021, including nearly 8,000 online actions by supporters. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Sen. Lamar Alexander along with Rep. Elise Stefanik also sent bipartisan letters to the department urging them to extend the pass. The department initially stated they had no power to extend the pass without action from Congress, but after OAK’s campaign made headlines in September, Bernhardt reversed course and began exploring options to extend the program.

“At a time when young people are spending their days in front of computer screens engaged in remote learning, it is vitally important to extend a hand to kids to invite them to get outdoors and experience the amazing things that America’s national parks and public lands have to offer,” said Paul Sanford, National Recreation Policy Director at The Wilderness Society. “The Every Kid Outdoors park pass is a great way to extend that invitation. Providing fifth graders with another chance to use the pass means more kids will connect with America’s public lands and enjoy the health benefits they have to offer. That will make kids healthier and happier and help them learn better.”

“The YMCA applauds the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision to extend the Every Kid in a Park pass for students who weren’t able to take advantage of it this year,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO of YMCA of the USA. “Experiences that the pass makes possible can help kids develop an appreciation for the historic, cultural and recreational value of our public lands, and can accelerate their growth as the next generation of stewards of these lands. We thank Congresswoman Stefanik for her leadership on this bipartisan effort and the Department for its commitment to ensure that every kid has access to the outdoors.”


About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in connecting children, youth, and families with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the wellness of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct, and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than 100 businesses and organizations to address the growing divide between children, youth, and the outdoors. 

Helping More People Benefit from Positive Experiences Outdoors

This blog was originally published on the Rethink Outside website, and produced in partnership with the Rethink Outside campaign. Learn more.

Recently appointed Vice President for Education and Chief Equity Officer for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Autumn Saxton-Ross, Ph.D., didn’t experience America’s national parks until she was an adult. She went to college two miles from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and, having grown up in the Kansas City, Missouri, it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that she realized she could get paid for work that focused on getting people outdoors.

“I wish someone would have told me earlier,” she says.

Saxton-Ross understands she wouldn’t be where she is today without the day-to-day connections her family provided early to the outdoors. “We know that people in communities experiencing all types of vulnerabilities can benefit exponentially from these experiences large and small,” she says.

Now she’s working to increase those opportunities for others. A membership organization for parks and recreation professionals, NRPA hired Saxton-Ross to support strategic professional growth that will make parks and recreation more beneficial to more communities. This work includes helping its members become more aware of exclusive, inequitable practices while learning how to approach their work with a lens of equity and inclusion—from contracts to programming to hiring.

Before joining NRPA, Saxton-Ross worked at NatureBridge as the director of its Mid-Atlantic Region. There, she learned the importance of focusing on the individual as a critical part of systems change. For example, she saw the changes that happened when staff members better understood the kids in NatureBridge’s most diverse region, where many are students of color from northern Virginia and D.C.’s public or charter schools.

“Kids show up in different ways, and a specific behavior is not because kids don’t want to be there. It may just be a defense mechanism,” she says. “When adults spend an hour making the kids feel more comfortable, they’re better able to connect. When a young person feels welcome and included, they feel like they belong in that park, and they’re going to open up to science, learning, and nature. I believe young Black children, especially males, who may not connect to traditional schooling, need that spark.”

While Saxton-Ross was working at Nature Bridge, Jackie Ostfeld, director of the Sierra Club’s Outdoors For All campaign, and founder and chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), recruited her to be on the organization’s steering committee.

“Initially, I was recruited to represent Nature Bridge,” says Saxton-Ross, “but as OAK started thinking more about access and barriers and the composition of the steering committee, they decided to be a lot more intentional. It wasn’t just about a person representing an organization. It was also about the voice and perspective that person brings.”

For Saxton-Ross, it was a refreshing approach. “From the perspective of being a minority of minorities, a Black woman in an environmental organization, it makes me feel more valued and less isolated,” she says. Perspectives like hers are critical, especially at a challenging time that magnifies inequities and highlights the necessity of the outdoors to community health and wellbeing.

What excites Saxton-Ross most about her work with OAK, her past work at Nature Bridge and her future at NRPA? “We can help each other,” she says. “It’s not another thing to do. It’s a way of seeing. None of us created the current system. Some of us benefit, and some of us don’t. But by sharing history, sharing language and moving together, we can use that new lens to change the systems or policies that each of us has power over.” With NRPA reaching 63,000 members and 1500 agencies around the country; and OAK, with over 100 member organizations; and all the programs like Nature Bridge connecting individuals, families and communities to opportunities outdoors; that’s no small thing.