Partner Highlight: The Detroit Outdoor Collaborative

NOLS Wilderness First Aid training YMCA Camp Nissokone

Participants at the NOLS Wilderness First Aid training opportunity at YMCA’s Camp Nissokone. Photos courtesy of Detroit Outdoors.

The Detroit Outdoors Collaborative is group of partners dedicated to connecting youth and their families to outdoor recreation experiences. Today, the group includes the City of Detroit Parks and Recreation, Sierra Club Outdoors For All, YMCA of Metro Detroit, Black to the Land Coalition, International Wildlife Refuge Alliance, US Forest Service, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Brought together by a shared longing to connect urban populations to nature, the collaborative provides a community, training, but also access to the outdoors.

“The first big project of the collaborative was actually reviving an old, run-down group campground called Scout Hollow in Detroit,” said Lisa Perez, Forest Service Detroit Urban Connections Program Specialist. “The collaborative banded together to revive the site, to give back an historic outdoor space that had been lost to Detroiters for years.”

Scout Hollow is now used to introduce youth and families to camping and to train youth group leaders to lead their own camping trips, utilizing equipment from a gear library.

This summer Detroit Outdoors supported a range of programming to connect people to nearby nature and public lands. Detroit Parks and Recreation hosted an outdoor nature day camp at their Detroit Exploration and Nature Center in Palmer Park. Up to thirty youth a day spent days exploring the expansive meadow space of a former golf course and the adjacent forest. Days often began with kickball games, but they would transition into activities with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, MI Department of Natural Resources Outdoor Adventure Center staff, archery, and street hockey provided by the Detroit Red Wings. 

The YMCA BOLD & GOLD wilderness youth development program offered a pair of three-week experiences for Detroit teens. Meeting each day in Palmer Park, participants experienced a progression of outdoor adventures from camping in Detroit’s Rouge Park, to sailing and fishing in the Detroit River, to rock climbing at Grand Ledge, MI, and culminating in backpacking trips to Hoosier National Forest and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

While Covid-19 prevented Detroit Outdoors from offering its traditional supported camping program, it was still able to lower barriers to camping by offering a family camping training and gear give-away to five Detroit families, and by loaning gear to groups such as the Detroit Zoological Society Environmental Science Internship program, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition,  and a group of young adults that spent the summer doing stewardship work throughout Michigan with the job readiness and community development program SER Metro-Detroit. In addition to the gear library activities, Detroit Outdoors staff offered weekly outdoor activities such as introductory archery and fishing skills in outdoor spaces such as Rouge Park. 

“Equitable access to the outdoors in your own city is so important,” said Perez. “But equitable access further from home, in your National Forests and other public lands all across the country, is just as important. Those spaces belong to everyone and impact us all.”

A memorable highlight from this past summer was a Black to the Land summer retreat at the Clear Lake Environmental Education Camp in the Hiawatha National Forest. The Black to the Land Coalition brought together a multigenerational group spanning geography and centering African American and Indigenous community perspectives. Participants shared their stories and connections to land while also building relationships with one another and public land they shared. In a tremendous example of partnership with land management agencies, staff from the US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service all supported elements of this weeklong trip. Participants are already dreaming about returning next summer. In fact, some are already planning to return this winter for the Michigan Ice Climbing festival in February!

To finish the summer, Detroit Outdoors led a NOLS Wilderness First Aid training opportunity at YMCA’s Camp Nissokone, where 30 group leaders from urban organizations like Black to the Land, Detroit Outdoors, Grand Rapids Thrive Outside, Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, Sierra Club learned how to care for those with whom they share outdoor adventures in the case of a medical emergency.

Detroit Outdoors provides training, gear rental and programming for youth groups, scout troops and school classes to have an overnight camping experience right in their own city! They also connect youth and families with outdoor exploration activities on National Forests. Short, day-long programs and longer multiday trips are already planned for Detroit youth and families through 2022.

If you are interested in getting outdoors with the Detroit Outdoor Collaborative, as a partner or a participant, contact the collaborative here.

Detroit Outdoors leading hikes in Witherell Woods
Swearing in new Junior Snow Rangers

(Left) Detroit Outdoors supported a range of programming to connect people to nearby nature and public lands, including leading hikes in Detroit’s Witherell Woods in Palmer Park. (Right) Detroit Urban Connections coordinator swears in new Junior Snow Rangers at the City of Detroit’s Winter in the Woods event. Photos courtesy of Detroit Outdoors.