As I crest the hill at Fitton Green before descending into the forest shade of Mulkey Ridge, I feel free. Miles of trail stretch out before me, providing options for meanders and loops to my heart’s content. My appreciation for access to the outdoors and the curative powers of nature has reached an all-time high during this pandemic.
And yet I am more keenly aware than ever that my carefree independence in these natural areas is a privilege that is not shared with all in our community. As racist confrontations on trails and in parks come to light across the country, Corvallis is not spared. The same racism that Christian Cooper encountered in New York City is happening right here in our community, in our natural areas, and on our trails.
When we talk about trails being for ALL people, we sidestep the reality that people of color encounter barriers to the outdoors every day. We must do better.
To my black friends and family who strategize on how to employ defense mechanisms in order to ward off confrontations when outdoors, we are listening to you. To our Spanish-speaking families who arrive at parks to find only English-language signs at the trailheads, we are listening to you. For the child whose dreams of becoming a bird watcher are squashed before they can blossom because of the color of his skin, we are listening to you.
As stewards of trails and open spaces in our community, we have a lot of learning to do. We need to recognize how systems of oppression are perpetuated in our natural areas, and stand against them. We need to deepen our commitment to building equitable access to nature where everyone feels safe and welcome. And we must use our voices to speak against racism, injustice and inequality.
Jessica McDonald of Corvallis is executive director of the Greenbelt Land Trust.
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