Into the Wild: Improving Access to the Outdoors

Charlottesville, VA – The Shenandoah National Park Trust recently announced the establishment of its Access to the Outdoors Fund, catalyzed by a grant from the Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation (CJMMF). This fund will allow the Trust to remove barriers of access to Shenandoah, including transportation and meal costs, entry and camping fees, and relevant programming and wilderness experiences, for historically underrepresented communities.

The Trust works with organizations throughout the region to engage young people in outdoor experiences, from educational programming and multi-day immersive experiences to volunteer service and paid work opportunities. In the last few years, the Trust noticed a gap in representation between those attending one-day educational programs and those engaged in immersive multi-day programs and work experiences in the park. To bridge that gap, the Trust began 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.

This spring, CJMMF gifted $150,000 to the Shenandoah National Park Trust to support equitable access to the park, of which $75,000 will be used as a matching gift to grow the fund this fall. This gift honors the formative time Chris McCandless spent in Shenandoah as a child before setting off on his famous travels detailed in Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild, and Chris’ own photographs and writings, compiled in Back to the Wild.

In 1976, eight-year-old Chris McCandless hiked Old Rag for the first time – a hike that became an annual tradition. “I think those early trips in Shenandoah National Park were fundamental to Chris’s becoming acquainted with the outdoors and the wilderness, and being comfortable with being there,” said Donald Montgomery, a friend of the McCandless family who accompanied Chris and his father, Walt, on several of their early hikes.

Left to Right: Don Montgomery, Walt McCandless, and Chris McCandless hike Old Rag in 1976. Photograph by Al Robinson.

The Trust’s Access to the Outdoors Fund will support established partnerships and create new opportunities for more young people to have similar introductory experiences that build their confidence and familiarity in outdoor spaces.

Last summer, the Trust worked with ART 180 (Richmond, VA) and Elk Hill (Charlottesville, VA) – established, self-sufficient groups serving youths in their communities – to develop itineraries and visit the park as a sort of pilot program. Both groups had incredible experiences and provided feedback on what sorts of programming was relevant for their youths.

With the Access to the Outdoors Fund officially established thanks to the CJMMF gift in May, the Trust invited both groups back to the park this summer, in addition to partnering with SoulTrak Outdoors (Washington, DC and New York City), BEST Kids (Washington, DC), and GroundworkRVA (Richmond, VA) to facilitate immersive, multi-day experiences for youth people!

The Trust will reserve $75,000 of the CJMMF donation to use as a matching gift in order to grow the fund and partner with more community groups to ensure that Shenandoah National Park is truly a place of respite, learning, and recreation for all.

Young people from ART 180, a Richmond-based nonprofit, spent multiple days camping in Shenandoah in August 2022, many for the first time.

Local groups are already benefitting from the Access to the Outdoors Fund!
Enjoy photos from ART 180, SoulTrak Outdoors, and GroundworkRVA:

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