Access to the Outdoors

National parks belong to all Americans, but not all Americans have access to them.

In the last few years, the Trust noticed a gap in representation between young people attending one-day educational programs and those engaged in multi-day programs and work experiences in the park. To bridge that gap, the Trust is partnering with established community groups to bring young people into the park and provide relevant programming that encourages them to develop meaningful connections and skills that instill self-confidence in the outdoors.

The Access to the Outdoors Fund provides funding to cover transportation and meal costs, entry and camping fees, and programming and wilderness experiences for historically underrepresented communities — those who don’t have the opportunity or means, in terms of financial resources, mobility, familiarity with wilderness, and transportation, to visit the park.

This fund is dedicated to supporting access, separate from general educational programming, which allows groups to work with the Trust to plan meaningful visits specific to their needs and preferences.

The Access to the Outdoors Fund is championed by a $150,000 gift from the Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation, in memory of Chris’ generosity and passion for the outdoors.

What is equitable access to the outdoors?

We believe that everyone should be able to experience Shenandoah in a way that is safe, relevant, and affordable to them. Both historically and presently, many barriers limit access to the outdoors – specifically Shenandoah – for some communities. These barriers include, but are not limited to:

  • transportation
  • cost (proper gear & clothing, entrance & camping fees, meals, transportation, etc.)
  • personal safety (both real and perceived)
  • familiarity with the outdoors (reading trail maps, Leave No Trace practices, wildlife safety, planning precautions, etc.)
  • historic discrimination & segregation, resulting in a lack of representation in outdoor spaces
  • injuries and/or disabilities that limit or inhibit someone’s ability to navigate, experience, or reach the park and its facilities

Not all communities are limited by all of these barriers – but even one might prevent an individual or group from visiting Shenandoah National Park.

We work to dismantle these barriers by partnering with established groups and organizations who are already serving historically underserved young people in their communities. We meet with our partners to develop itineraries that are relevant to their interests and needs, then coordinate with park staff to prepare groups for their visit. If needed, we are on site to welcome them when they arrive at the park and make sure they feel safe, prepared, and excited about their time in Shenandoah.

“This year, in Shenandoah National Park, it was just like magic to see the young people activated. They were relying on each other, looking out for each other. The power of them being in that space to use their voice, to rely on their own intuition, and to trust where they were even though it was an uncomfortable space they didn’t really know anything about… it really showed us why this is so needed and so necessary.”

-Nicole Jones, Deputy Director of ART 180

“Looking back at this week, I surprised myself by pushing my boundaries and discovering new limits for myself. I can use this experience to push myself even when things get hard, knowing that I can overcome this. This experience can help other kids reach their potential by showing that us as POC can do these types of things.”

-Gabrielle, Summer Search/SoulTrak Outdoors Participant, 2023

“So we’re heading out, and one of the girls is struggling with asthma but they’re all supporting her, we see snakes. But the reason I wanted to keep going was to build resilience. The biggest thing our kids need to build in their life is resiliency because they’re overcoming really big challenges in their lives. At the end of that trip, the kids were exhausted, but so proud of themselves because they had defeated this huge hike.”

-Liz Knotts,  Elk Hill Prevention Services Coordinator