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Get Black Outside event helping people of color connect with the outdoors

A kid tries on a snorkeling mask
Get Black Outdoors participant gets ready to snorkel in the Monongahela National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo by Robert Whetsell.

GEORGIA — In 2019, data collected from National Park Service, USDA Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service surveys found that 88% to 95% of all visitors to public lands are white. The national non-profit collaborative Get Black Outside is partnering with the Forest Service to change that statistic.

Four Forest Service units recently joined the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, See You at The Top and the Tennessee Aquatics Project in hosting the first snorkel-and-camp Get Black Outside event. Participants from a variety of youth programs snorkeled, camped, hiked and talked openly about cultural histories represented by recreation areas on the George Washington and Jefferson, Ocala, Cherokee and Monongahela National Forests.

More than 120 black youth, youth leaders and families participated in the event, some of them new to visiting National Forest recreation areas. Forest Service biologists and National Association of Black Scuba Divers members taught safe snorkeling practices to black youth and opened their eyes to the biodiversity that can be found in waters like Passage Creek. In addition, there were guided hikes focused on revealing the history of the area and educational activities focused on everyone’s role in protecting the water quality of their local watersheds.

Overhead view of two people snorkeling
Snorkelers floats in Passage Creek in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests during the Get Black Outdoors 2021 event. USDA Forest Service photo by Rebecca Robbins.

The Get Black Outside program was founded by See You At The Top and the Tennessee Aquatics Project to advocate for “nature equity, with a goal that people of color, especially all African-Americans, have the opportunity to engage in nature.” The partner goals are well aligned with this mission, ensuring that outdoor spaces are welcoming and safe for people of color. Forest Service programs are already in place to help bring this kind of programing to national forests.

Zanethia Barnett, a research fisheries biologist with the Southern Research Station and member of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers, helped bring the new partners to the Forest Service. The Tennessee Aquatics Project usually explores coral reefs and sunken slave ships within coastal waters; Barnett encouraged them to bring programs closer to home.

Craig Roghair, Southern Research Station fisheries biologist, and Kim Winter, national program leader for NatureWatch, coordinate the national freshwater snorkeling educational programs and support staff across the National Forest System in starting up their own snorkel programs to help engage visitors in a fun way to learn about water. They have organized snorkeling events hosted across the country for school groups and water enthusiasts and have converted the lessons learned from a two-decades old snorkeling program on the Cherokee National Forest into a toolkit that all forests can use to implement their own snorkel program.

Bringing together partners whose missions focus on serving black communities can help increase awareness of the abundant recreation opportunities national forests have to offer. This fulfills the Forest Service goal of “Delivering Benefits to the Public by Connecting People with Nature,” so all people feel welcome and realize the physical, spiritual and emotional benefits of recreating in the outdoors.

Two young black women in wetsuits and snorkeling mask pose for the camera by the river's edge while giving a peace sign
Snorkel participants at the Get Black Outside 2021 event in Cherokee National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

Group photo
Participants at the Get Black Outside 2021 event in Cherokee National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.


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