Aug 17, 2022 - Things to Do

Minnesota birder looks to make nature more accessible and inclusive

dudley outside
Dudley Edmondson. Photo courtesy of PBS

Dudley Edmondson is on a mission to make Minnesota's outdoor recreation scene more inclusive.

Why it matters: In addition to being fun, spending time in nature can have a positive effect on physical and mental health.

  • But research has shown that people of color are less likely to enjoy many traditional outdoor recreation activities due to factors that include a lack of access and a history of discrimination.

What he's doing: Edmondson, a birder and photographer based in Duluth, has spent decades sharing his love of nature with a broader audience through his writing, speaking and walking tours.

What he's saying: "For me, it was it was always about getting African-Americans to understand that there are mental and physical benefits to having a connection to the natural world," Edmondson, who found refuge in nature when things were tough at home as a child, told Axios. "And that was really the whole point."

State of play: Fifteen years ago, interest among the community was seemingly so low that Edmondson says his publisher didn't even know what to do with his book.

  • That's started to change. Outdoor organizations and businesses across the nation have launched campaigns aimed at engaging communities of color, as Axios' Russell Contreras has reported.
  • Groups working to get more people into nature reported a surge in interest as a result.

Yes, but: Barriers remain. In addition to access and a lack of experience around camping, hiking and other activities, Edmondson said valid fears around harassment based on race and personal safety are commonly raised.

  • "Oftentimes they seem as concerned about that kind of thing happening as they might be about a bear or a snake or something like that," he said.

Get involved: Groups that organize outings for people of color can help ease some of those fears, Edmondson said. In addition to his own walking tours, he cited Outdoor Afro and Minnesota's Major Taylor Bicycling Club as good options.

What's next: Edmondson is now working on a new book featuring the stories of people of color working in science and environmental activism.

  • The goal is for it to hit shelves as soon as 2023.

Go Deeper: Edmondson is one of several Minnesotans featured in this month in a new PBS series, “America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston."

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