Changing the World, One Campfire at a Time

Last Thursday, Shenandoah National Park Trust held a kickoff party for our Banff Adventurers and local Banff Film Festival Sponsors at Three Notch’d Brewery in Charlottesville, Virginia. Earl B. Hunter, Jr. founder and President of Black Folks Camp Too spoke about his mission of increasing diversity in the outdoors. We hope you enjoy our interview with Earl.

L to R: Chuck Millsaps, Great Outdoor Provision Co.; Jessica Cocciolone, SNPT; Earl B. Hunter Jr., Black Folks Camp Too.

Changing the World, One Campfire at a Time

When Black people say they don’t go camping because of the bugs, that’s not the whole truth, says Earl B. Hunter, Jr.

For many people, particularly in the South, the real reason is generational fear. “Don’t go in those woods,” grandparents and great-grandparents always said. Why? “Because they were scared of White folks,” Hunter says.

This legacy of fear has erased their legacy of knowledge about the outdoors, Hunter says, leaving many Black people at a disadvantage when they do want to get out in the woods.

Hunter himself had never been camping before he became an executive for RV manufacturer Sylvansport. Then, his 7-year-old son Dillon issued a challenge: to take a father-son trip to Mount Rushmore. In the summer of 2017, they embarked on a 14,000-mile road trip, visiting 49 campgrounds in 20 states. The only time they saw another Black family camping was in Albuquerque, 1,500 miles from their home in western North Carolina.

Hunter toured that family’s high-end motorhome and talked with them about the lack of people who looked like them in campgrounds and parks. “If anybody can change this, you can,” the mother told him.

That’s why, in 2019, Hunter founded Black Folks Camp Too, a marketing company that helps outdoor brands connect with Black consumers by creating inclusive content, organizing events and developing marketing plans.

“Our mission is to remove fear, and to add knowledge, and invite more Black folks to go camping and enjoy the outdoor lifestyle with any and everyone,” he says. Any effort to make outdoor recreation welcoming to people of all races, ages and genders must be more than “kumbaya”: “It has to be sincere, it has to be meaningful, it has to be measured, so that it can be sustainable and delightful.”

What do these meaningful efforts look like? Black Folks Camp Too has spent years gathering data about how Black people view and use outdoor resources. Hunter shares this information with outdoor recreation companies, state agencies, and other organizations to help them market their products to this huge untapped market.

Black Folks Camp Too has launched the Unity Blaze Patch campaign, which is a campfire symbol that individuals and companies can use to signal that they treat everyone, everywhere, equally. Proceeds from the campaign support college scholarships, BFCT’s digital education initiative, and the Unity Blaze Fund for organizations promoting inclusivity outdoors, including Leave No Trace.

Hunter also speaks to groups and urges outdoor enthusiasts to personally invite more Black folks to share their outdoor experiences. After all, he points out, we all pay for the nation’s 640 million acres of public land.

“It should be a moral obligation [to say] ‘Come on and let me show you how amazing the outdoors is, because it’s been amazing to me.’ Anyone can do this,” Hunter says. “Educate yourself. Extend the invitation. Share what you know.”

He recalls a recent experience at a campground, when a Black Folks Camp Too supporter’s mother watched him build a fire. She said, “I’m 67 years old, and I’ve never seen a campfire in the woods. And I’ve always wanted to. But I was scared.”

“And I cried,” Hunter says, “because I knew that fear kept this woman from experiencing something that millions and millions of Americans had already seen. It broke my heart. But it quickly mended my heart. Because I knew that what we were doing as a company, we were going to change that.”

We thank our Banff Adventurers and the sponsors that help us bring the Banff Film Festival to Charlottesville. To learn more about the Banff Film Festival, click here. If you are interested in becoming a Banff Adventurer, email edigney@snptrust.org or stay tuned for the 2023 Banff Adventurer ticket sale dates! If you are interested in becoming a 2023 Banff Film Festival sponsor, please email nerickson@snptrust.org.

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