Spending time outdoors provides essential lessons about how we relate to the natural world, how we depend upon it for our health and welfare, and the responsibility we all share for protecting it. Many of the leaders working so hard to make that opportunity available to everyone attribute their passion for conservation and advocacy to their own childhood experiences with nature.

But outdoor spaces are not always safe or welcoming to all. Just last year, an infamous incident involving Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper in Central Park exposed the kind of racism and intimidation people of color still experience in outdoor spaces. The prevailing narrative that outdoor recreation is only for those with a certain skin color, body type, and tax bracket prevents many from exploring the great outdoors at all — by one 2014 estimate, only 1 percent of National Park visitors were Black and 2 percent were Native American. And those few who do venture forth often feel they don’t belong once they arrive.

Angelou Ezeilo, the founder of the Greening Youth Foundation, spent the summers of her childhood exploring 54 acres of woodland in upstate New York, where her family owned a second home. But because of her dark skin, Ezeilo didn’t initially see a career path in conservation, or even a place in the recreational outdoor scene. When she first learned about the climate crisis, during a screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the issue didn’t feel at all personal despite her love of nature. “Although I believed it, it didn’t resonate with me because there were no people who looked like me talking about the issue,” she says.

The question of who feels ownership of public lands has profound implications for climate action and justice. “If there were any sort of respect for the ostensibly communal nature of public lands,” Grist’s Eve Andrews recently noted, “no one would feel entitled to their destruction, nor barred from their enjoyment.”

Read the full article about universal access to nature by Claire Elise Thompson at Grist.