Aug 9, 2022 - News

Out and about: Tanya Walker's favorite Austin places

Photo illustration of Tanya Walker.
Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios Photo: Courtesy of Tanya Walker

Tanya Walker started Black Women Who Kayak+ in 2018 in Austin as a way to get other Black women out on the water and the hiking trail.

The big picture: The empowerment-minded nonprofit has chapters in at least 10 other cities from coast to coast, including Dallas, Houston, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

Why it matters: Studies show that people of color aren't as likely to use public parks as white people — partly because of access issues.

  • Walker, who graduated from Reagan High School in the mid-1990s and earned her certification as an automotive tech from Austin Community College, likes to say she's equally at home on the water or fixing a car.
An outing of Black Women Who Kayak+ at Inks Lake State Park in May 2022.
An outing of Black Women Who Kayak+ at Inks Lake State Park in May 2022. Photo courtesy Tanya Walker

Why did you start the group?

First it was for my own personal gain — growing up as a kid and as a young adult, there wasn't much diversity to do the activities I like to do.

How quickly did it take off?

The first couple outings, it was just me and this one lady and she had this terrible, terrible inflatable kayak. She told me not to give up. I started a Facebook group and we went spelunking — and suddenly it was nine ladies and my son.

What's the mission?

We want to break down barriers and change the mentality of the way some Black and brown people think. Like many Black people, my mother didn’t know how to swim — historically, they were prevented from using public pools — and didn't feel comfortable with me in bodies of water.

  • Because Black and brown people statistically have the highest number of deaths from accidental drowning, we've partnered with the British Swim School of Austin and have more than 20 people taking lessons.

So, given that family dynamic, how did you get interested in the outdoors?

I was a challenging child, so I tried to defy my mother and go swimming when she didn't allow it. My grandma used to take us to go camping — and taught me how to fish.

  • (Walker's grandmother cleaned houses for wealthy Austinites, including for Allan Shivers, the segregationist governor of Texas.)
  • I was invited the summer before my senior year in high school to a Christian camp in North Carolina — that was my first time kayaking.

What's your favorite spot in Austin for kayaking?

I like to head to Snake Island, on Lady Bird Lake. There's a barbecue pit and a hammock, and you can swing into the lake. It feels like you're on a private island.

How about for hiking?

Twin Falls or Sculpture Falls in the Barton Creek Greenbelt. The water is gorgeous — when it's not this kind of drought. But it's not an easy trail to get there.

Where do you recommend picnicking?

The Long Center. It overlooks downtown Austin, it's got a nice breeze, and it's not so packed you can't enjoy your surroundings.

Is there a place that hold sentimental value for you?

Lake Belton. My grandma used to take us to go camping there. Those moments were golden, how all our family came together.

What's one cherished piece of gear?

I'm a very big tomboy at heart, and I have this knife I carry — a six-inch Morakniv — that always comes with me. It's good for cutting down limbs for a trekking stick. And it gives me a feeling of authority.

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