New Mountain Dreamers initiative aims to break down barriers in the outdoor world
A new Mountain Dreamers initiative is aiming to make outdoor activities more equitable to the immigrant community in Summit County.
Javier Pineda, co-founder and program coordinator of Mountain Dreamers, said that he grew up enjoying the outdoors. From his family’s orchards in Mexico to being a Boy Scout to continuing his love of being in nature as an adult, the importance of the outdoors to him has changed over time. Now, he wants to expand access to break down obstacles that the immigrant community may face when accessing aspects of the outdoors.
“Initially, for me, it was important for people to have gear,” he said. “Then after more thinking and more research, we realized that was more of a Band-Aid because it helps, but it doesn’t really address the bigger issues.”
Pineda said that he wants Oso Outdoors to tackle systemic barriers rather than just programming. The initiative will seek to identify barriers to access wherever they are and dismantle them in order to increase opportunities for underrepresented communities in the mountains to be able to access the outdoors and public lands. This could include obstacles like language, cost or a feeling of exclusion in outdoor spaces. Another is knowing how to understand reservation systems, which require driver’s licenses, something that not everyone has.
“A lot of people like myself who look like me may not have the same opportunities, and we face different barriers — some are financial, cultural or the very generic ones that we talk about oftentimes,” he said. “I also realize that another barrier that we often don’t want to talk about is immigration experience, as we like to call it.”
Pineda added that he has also faced obstacles when participating in the outdoors that the non-immigrant community may take for granted. He said he and a couple of friends tried to get fishing licenses from a Walmart but were denied because of their identification. Recipients of DACA, also known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, have specific markings on their driver’s licenses, and at the time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife did not accept them.
“Long story short, I came home, and I posted in this Latino group on Facebook, ‘By any chance is anyone else having this experience with fishing licenses?’ And that’s, there’s a lot of comments like ‘Yeah, my in-laws’ or ‘my friends did’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, this is actually a problem.’”
Across the state, others were facing similar issues. While some Colorado Walmarts would take them, others wouldn’t. This created a gap in access. Pineda said that through some phone calls with leaders, they were able to add those licenses to the list of acceptable identification for the next cycle. Changing larger systems like these, he said, is what Oso Outdoors is meant to do.
“I think that’s a crucial piece to get more people to feel comfortable and to create trust — to slowly build up to that level of activity if they really want to,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘Why do people not backcountry (ski)?’ It takes a lot of training to get to that level. So it’s kind of like seeing it a step at a time to kind of build the foundation first.”
At the state level, legislators are taking steps to create and support programming that would support equity in the outdoors industry. In 2021, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife put together its Outdoor Equity Board, which oversees the Outdoor Equity grant program. The grant program received $1.5 million in lottery funds and will receive $3 million by the 2023-2024 fiscal year and every year thereafter. Funds for the grant program are to encourage and support programs that are reducing barriers to Colorado’s outdoors, creating pathways for conservation or offering environmental and outdoor-based educational opportunities.
“Our goal will be to get (partners) to fund some projects that increase the ability for them to be inclusive, maybe it’s bilingual trailside signage, or reaching out into the community to figure out ways to invite people and welcome them into the national forest and everything that has to offer,” said Peter Bakken, executive director of Mountain Dreamers. “Or (it could be) working on issues of some of the state systems. People in the community like to fish, but you need a fishing license. It’s not that easy to get, especially if you’re an immigrant, if English isn’t your first language (or) if perhaps you don’t have a state ID. There’s lots of barriers.”
Pineda said that change in the outdoor world will not happen overnight, but small changes over time will make larger systemic changes possible.
“How do you move a mountain? You move one pebble at a time.”
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