5 Ways To Help You Survive National Park Closures

It’s been a tough week for National Park fans and staff with all 401 units closed as a result of the government shutdown. Here are five tips below to help you get engaged and support the parks through this challenged time. Can you add any other ideas to the list?

1. Call or Write a Letter to Your Congressional Representative

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Your voice and opinions matter to your elected officials, so write a letter or make a phone call to voice your support for our National Parks. It seems that some in congress have little clue about how their decision making impacts the parks and their staff, so let them know you want the parks open and fully staffed because they are essential. Alternately, send letters of praise to those representatives who demonstrate support for the parks.

2. Join a National Parks Advocacy Group

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There are many groups at the forefront to advocate and raise funds for National Parks. Some include the National Parks Conservation Association, the National Park Foundation, as well as several other organizations made up of ordinary citizens who are dedicated to supporting National Parks around the country. These organizations welcome diverse voices, and are an excellent way to learn more about how to support National Parks year-round.

3. Stay Engaged with Nature via State and Local Parks

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What has surfaced during the national park closure is that many people do not know that city, regional, and state parks remain open and fully staffed. Your local parks offer rich opportunities to engage with natural local history, and you can learn cool new things about nature, literally in your own back yard. Local and state parks can be a gateway to National Park experiences, and those places need your support and visitorship too!

4. Encourage Park Staff

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Park staff, from the back office to the frontlines, face unplanned and devastating financial consequences as a result of the shutdown, with an added insult of being tinted as “non-essential” through a politicized lens. Use your social media networks to share what the National Parks mean to you, and how you appreciate the hardworking men and women who help preserve them.

5. Learn National Park History

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As a family or community, have a movie night to watch the excellent PBS series on the National Parks by Ken Burns, National Parks: America’s Best Idea. It chronicles the fascinating history and intention behind the creation of the National Parks that adds insight into today’s Park challenges. Also, get a copy of Frank and Audrey Peterman’s book Legacy on the Land and view their website to whet your appetite for National Park stories, adventure, and more!
How are you coping with the National Park closure?

Hiking and History: Honoring the Legacies of Port Chicago and John Muir

A foggy morning turned into a beautiful afternoon for a late November hike up Mount Wanda at the John Muir National Historic site.  Twenty-five outdoor afros and Cody the dog were treated to an enjoyable afternoon of history, community, and smiles.

Before we began our hike, Raphael Allen, Park Ranger at Rosie the Riveter/ World War II Home Front National Historical Park, welcomed everyone and provided a thorough presentation on African American of History Port Chicago. Ranger Raphael explained that Port Chicago, visible from the summit of Mount Wanda, was the site of a deadly explosion on July 17, 1944.

320 men, including 202 African American men, were killed due to unsafe conditions at the port. Following the explosion, 50 African American men were charged and tried for mutiny for refusing to report back to work. According to Ranger Raphael, this injustice caused African Americans to organize and to whisper among themselves  “Thurgood’s Coming” in reference to NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s involvement in the case. Ranger Raphael concluded his presentation by distributing trading cards to Outdoor Afro hikers and emphasizing the national park’s commitment to ensuring that Port Chicago is not forgotten.

 

With Port Chicago on our minds, we began our ascent up Mount Wanda.

Everyone settled into their own pace, with faster hikers taking the lead and the others keeping a moderate pace.  While the beginning of the hike was mostly shady and cool, the sun broke through the trees to warm us up as we got to our midway point.
Outdoor Afro Leader Cliff Sorrell pointed out the different trees on the hike including fragrant California Bay Trees and various oak trees, including the coast live oak and the blue oak trees. Cliff explained that you can tell the difference between the trees by noticing their leaves.
Several outdoor afros noted that we were joined on our hike by different bird species, including turkey vultures, Downy Woodpeckers, and a hummingbird.  We also discussed the legacy of John Muir and his significant role in ensuring that we can continue to enjoy national parks like Mount Wanda and Yosemite.

Outdoor Afros Carmen and Toure were the first to reach Mount Wanda’s summit.

As other members joined us, Outdoor Afro Leader Zoë Polk pointed out the location of Port Chicago.  She asked members to think about what the landscape looked like in 1944 and to think about the different reasons African Americans joined the Navy during that time. Zoë referenced Professor Robert Allen’s celebrated work, Port Chicago Mutiny, and noted that some of the men were outdoor afros of their time, joining the navy out of a sense of adventure and longing to experience the world’s natural beauty. She also asked hikers to contemplate what outdoor recreation activities the men of Port Chicago participated in, given that they had little ability to travel to Oakland, San Francisco, or other bay area culture centers for entertainment. Hikers took a minute to contemplate this history and the beautiful surrounding landscape before descending Mount Wanda.
We finished the afternoon by stopping by the John Muir House. The wonderful staff at the visitor center screened Into Forgetfulness, a short documentary film about the Port Chicago disaster and legal battle. The staff also led tours of John Muir’s house.
The Outdoor Afro leadership team celebrates all of the kind folks who joined us on Mount Wanda and looks forward to seeing everyone again at the next meet up!
For more information about honoring the legacy of Port Chicago, connect with the Friends of Port Chicago.

Cayman and John Muir

#DispatchesDNLee: An Outdoor Afro Adventure to Africa

Danielle N. Lee is a member of the Outdoor Afro Leadership Team.  She is a Ph.D. Biologist currently in Tanzania doing a field study of African Pouched Rats.  She will be sharing her Adventures from Africa here on Outdoor Afro.  You can join her on her adventure at her blog The Urban Scientist at the Scientific American Network.

I don’t believe in coincidences. ~DNLee

Me, standing in the wake of the Uluguru Mountains, Morogoro, Tanzania at my field site

Until I was 8 years old, my mother worked for the Memphis Park Commission which overlooked maintenance of city public lands and community center recreation activities.  Every summer she was assigned to work as a supervisor at a neighborhood park; and accompanied her to work.  I lived for the summer. I played outdoors, picked flowers, and made friends.
I was also a complete zealot when it came to animals.  I rescued almost every cat I encountered. Though I was mousey, nothing stirred me to fight quicker than a kid torturing an animal, and not just the cute cuddly ones.  I probably got into more fights over toads and frogs than any other beastie. And, yes,  I religiously watched Wild Kingdom and collected Wildlife Treasury Picture Cards. I was that kid!
I didn’t know it at the time, but those experiences laid the foundation for who and what and where I am today: a Zoologist. Studying wildlife in Africa.
Field Biology may be one the most romanticized career tracks of the sciences. Images of exotic wild places, muddy boots, trekking through forests or mountains or grasslands, enduring the elements, swatting mosquitoes and other pesky insects…a scientist on an exhilarating journey exploring nature.  I’m in Tanzania studying the African Giant Pouched Rat, doing a capture-mark-recapture study to learn more about its natural habits, its mating system and social structure.

African Giant Pouched rat that I caught during my field study.

I know it doesn’t sound like the wildlife adventures I watched on television as a child; but it all is a part of the fabric of science.  And it is every bit as a dream come true to be here doing this.   Field work can be simultaneously amazing and exhausting, scary and wonderful.  I wouldn’t trade one bit of my journey.

Dispatches from Tanzania
Official #DispatchesDNLee postcard
artwork by @LalSox

And I am grateful to my parents, family, extended family, and friends who cultivated the scientist in me, even as a young child.  Maybe they knew that all of that exposure to the outdoors would lead to this. Maybe they didn’t.  But I am glad either way.  I know it was those experiences that brought me to this place, this space, this path and I love them for it.
How have your Outdoor Afro experiences cultivated your interests in the outdoors?  Has it resulted in a career in the sciences or conservation or environmental education like it has for me? Or perhaps you are encouraging younger generations.  Tell us your story.

Games Outdoor Afros Play – Dominoes

Dominoes the Bajan Way (image courtesy of Lisa Overman)

As I read the proposed itinerary for the US Journalists Experiential trip to Barbados sponsored by the Barbados Tourism Authority, I got quite excited to see that we would “Learn to play Dominoes the Bajan Way” hosted by the Barbados National Domino, Whist and Hearts Club. The first thought that went through my mind was “Do they play bones the same in the Barbados as we do here in the States? Oh, boy, I can’t wait to find out.” I was also curious if the Whist in the Club name referred to a card game similar to Bid Whist I have played before. (I’ll answer that second question now. I didn’t get a chance to see or play a hand of cards. I explained to a nice Bajan gentleman our game of Bid Whist in the States and he told me yes, that is the game they call Whist in Barbados. The number of ways African-American and Barbados culture are alike are amazing. But I digress.)

As we unloaded the taxi before a small concrete building, I heard the unmistakable sound that told me, “Oh, but yes,” SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! and the boisterous laughter and chatter of old men playing dominoes. We were greeted by Ms. Suzette Hinds, secretary of the club that hosts rounds of play on weekdays and tournaments on Sundays. I felt instantly at home, well at least that scene of down-home like being at a family reunion in the park or out in the country or on the porch or patio at Big Momma’s house.

Outside of the Barbados Dominoes, Whist and Hearts Club

Similar to how we play in the States, Bajan Dominoes plays with a box of double six pieces, each player takes 7 pieces each, double six preferential starts the game, a round of play ends when the first player’s hand is empty or the board is locked, and players ‘wash’ the bones to shuffle them around before selecting pieces. Games can be played with three or four players and folks trash-talk, count pieces, and knock on the table to pass. And of course people SLAM bones on the table. But the pace of play and score taking is much different.

In the United States, points are claimed by players at each turn whenever the ends add up to a multiple of five. In a 3-man game, you don’t go fishing for a piece if you can’t play. Those extra pieces are simply out of play. Wins are a tallied according to who finishes the game first (domino!) or has the least points left in hand at the end of the game. I actually did quite well playing Bajan Dominoes because I employed the same strategy I use in American Dominoes – play the highest value pieces first. Points are tallied according to how many games you win (not the points you claim at each turn). As a result, rounds are very fast, on average 3-5 minutes. You mark your win on the table with a piece of chalk. The first person to win 6 total games wins that match. Several matches can be played.

Learning to play 3-man Bajan style Dominoes (image courtesty of Lauren Monitz)

Four-man dominoes is a team effort. The play is the same, except the winner of the previous round plays the first piece. Double six is still the preferred leading piece but if s/he doesn’t have it then s/he will play what s/he can. The first team to win 6 rounds wins the match.

It was quite a lot of fun. Our teachers were great sports and were quite patient with us.

Standing with our Bajan Dominoes teachers, John (second from left) and Michael (second from right) also in the picture Ramona Flume of In the Know Traveler

Of course, they were counting pieces and making plays before we could knock. I swear I was at a family reunion picnic. They were talking all kinds junk – with their thick Bajan dialects: “You no have no fives” Slam! Slam! “C’mon.” “Girl knocking.” “Ere go!” Slam! My only response was to reply “Get out outta my hand!” and laugh in full agreement.

Checking my hand (image courtesy of Lauren Monitz)

I had a blast and I actually like playing dominoes the Bajan way! I can’t wait to show off what I have learned at the next Outdoor Afro summer gathering with family and friends.

Games Outdoor Afros Play – Dominoes

Dominoes the Bajan Way (image courtesy of Lisa Overman)
As I read the proposed itinerary for the US Journalists Experiential trip to Barbados sponsored by the Barbados Tourism Authority, I got quite excited to see that we would “Learn to play Dominoes the Bajan Way” hosted by the Barbados National Domino, Whist and Hearts Club. The first thought that went through my mind was “Do they play bones the same in the Barbados as we do here in the States? Oh, boy, I can’t wait to find out.” I was also curious if the Whist in the Club name referred to a card game similar to Bid Whist I have played before. (I’ll answer that second question now. I didn’t get a chance to see or play a hand of cards. I explained to a nice Bajan gentleman our game of Bid Whist in the States and he told me yes, that is the game they call Whist in Barbados. The number of ways African-American and Barbados culture are alike are amazing. But I digress.) As we unloaded the taxi before a small concrete building, I heard the unmistakable sound that told me, “Oh, but yes,” SLAM! SLAM! SLAM! and the boisterous laughter and chatter of old men playing dominoes. We were greeted by Ms. Suzette Hinds, secretary of the club that hosts rounds of play on weekdays and tournaments on Sundays. I felt instantly at home, well at least that scene of down-home like being at a family reunion in the park or out in the country or on the porch or patio at Big Momma’s house.
Outside of the Barbados Dominoes, Whist and Hearts Club

Similar to how we play in the States, Bajan Dominoes plays with a box of double six pieces, each player takes 7 pieces each, double six preferential starts the game, a round of play ends when the first player’s hand is empty or the board is locked, and players ‘wash’ the bones to shuffle them around before selecting pieces. Games can be played with three or four players and folks trash-talk, count pieces, and knock on the table to pass. And of course people SLAM bones on the table. But the pace of play and score taking is much different.

In the United States, points are claimed by players at each turn whenever the ends add up to a multiple of five. In a 3-man game, you don’t go fishing for a piece if you can’t play. Those extra pieces are simply out of play. Wins are a tallied according to who finishes the game first (domino!) or has the least points left in hand at the end of the game. I actually did quite well playing Bajan Dominoes because I employed the same strategy I use in American Dominoes – play the highest value pieces first. Points are tallied according to how many games you win (not the points you claim at each turn). As a result, rounds are very fast, on average 3-5 minutes. You mark your win on the table with a piece of chalk. The first person to win 6 total games wins that match. Several matches can be played.

Learning to play 3-man Bajan style Dominoes (image courtesty of Lauren Monitz)

Four-man dominoes is a team effort. The play is the same, except the winner of the previous round plays the first piece. Double six is still the preferred leading piece but if s/he doesn’t have it then s/he will play what s/he can. The first team to win 6 rounds wins the match.

It was quite a lot of fun. Our teachers were great sports and were quite patient with us.

Standing with our Bajan Dominoes teachers, John (second from left) and Michael (second from right) also in the picture Ramona Flume of In the Know Traveler
Of course, they were counting pieces and making plays before we could knock. I swear I was at a family reunion picnic. They were talking all kinds junk – with their thick Bajan dialects: “You no have no fives” Slam! Slam! “C’mon.” “Girl knocking.” “Ere go!” Slam! My only response was to reply “Get out outta my hand!” and laugh in full agreement.
Checking my hand (image courtesy of Lauren Monitz)
I had a blast and I actually like playing dominoes the Bajan way! I can’t wait to show off what I have learned at the next Outdoor Afro summer gathering with family and friends

Barbados Bound: An Outdoor Afro Adventure in the Caribbean

(image courtesy of www.visitbarbados.org)

I’m excited about visiting Barbados. I’ve never been before, but I have experienced other Caribbean countries, and  know first hand how amazing the Caribbean is. For the novice outdoor recreationist and the seasoned outdoor lover, the Caribbean is equally compelling. Something about the weather, the scenery, the sounds and people that make me feel at home. The weather is simultaneously hot, sunny, humid, and rainy. The scenery is green, gold, orange,red, violet and blue – encompassing the beauty of the horizon, the water, the trees, the sand, and the sky. The sounds are beyond description: birds chirping, monkeys frolicking, frogs chorusing, wind blowing, waves of water lapping, and your heart beating to the rhythm of the local music. And the people, aaah! Visiting the Caribbean was the first time, I had truly felt completely sucked into a place and was culturally reborn. Finally, with people with ancestors hailing from the Old and New Worlds – it’s an island nation shaped by colonialism, servitude, displacement, and renewal, all at the same time.
Today, I go to Barbados to revel in its re-birth as a vacation destination of lovers and nature lovers.  Among many African-Americans, it is a rather well-known and visited romance destination.  I know several couples who have honeymooned, become engaged, or just enjoyed the private company of one another in this beautiful place.  And beautiful, it is.  For the nature lovers, Barbados offers a host of ways to fall in love:  Amazing sunrises, breath taking sunsets, miles of public beaches, water sports, snorkeling and marine life watching, bird watching, enjoying the fragrances of the wild flowers or falling asleep to the chorus if Whistling Frogs.  You’ll fall in love, no doubt.

Barbados Beach (image courtesty of www.Barbados.org)

And thanks to the The Barbados Tourism Authority for sponsoring an Experiential Group Trip for USA Journalists, so Outdoor Afro can share this experience with you.
Outdoor Afro will be staying the Tamarind Hotel (apart of the Elegante Hotel Group).  It is a newly renovated hotel will amazing beach front views, three swimming pools, and maximum outdoor living space.
The itinerary includes up-close wildlife encounters – swimming with the turtles, a nature photography hike, learning to play dominoes the Bajan way, experiencing a polo exhibition, and plus the best of Barbados hospitality — food and drink.
Oh, yes! Of course, I’ve packed all of the essential gear for outdoor adventure and enjoyment: swim suit, flip flops, sneakers, sun hat, sun block, Polo clothes, shades, light rain jacket, and my camera and computer to share it all with you.
Stay tuned and follow the tweets @OutdoorAfro on Twitter or follow the hashtag #OABarbados.

Show-Me Skiers of St. Louis

By Outdoor Afro Contributor Danielle N. Lee
My first time skiing was an experience. I’m from the south, so frolicking in the cold or snow wasn’t a bog part of my childhood experience.  However, I love the outdoors and I love trying new things, so I joined a group of friends who introduced me to the basics of the slopes.

Preparing for my winter time Outdoor Afro adventure with Show Me Skiiers

It was an adventure!  I was far from great at it.  But I wasn’t deterred. So when I was invited to a Beginners Ski Trip with the Show-Me Skiers of St. Louis, the verr first African-American Ski club of St. Louis, Missouri, I decided to go for it.  Since 1983, this group of winter outdoor recreationists have been planning ski and snow boarding outings for adults and families.
It’s a rather popular outing because there were two busloads of skiers of all ages headed to Sundown Mountain Resort of Dubuque, Iowa.  One reason was the affordability.  The group negotiated a package that cost less $200 person (on average) for the weekend.  Related to skiing, the cost of lessons, equipment rental, lift and access to the slopes for two days of skiing or snowboarding was $60 for the whole weekend!  I know, super affordable and a great incentive to attract anyone interested in skiing or snowboarding.

Fellow Outdoor Afros taking a break from the slopes

I decided to give snowboarding a try.  I was no better at snowboarding than I was at skiing.  Both require muscles that I obviously have no command over! LOL!
It was a fun time and I recommend Show-Me Skiers, skiing or the Sundown Ski Mountain to anyone, especially to a newbie.  Here are more photos from the Ski Trip.

Outdoor Afro Cheers on Barbara Hillary

The First African-American Woman on Record to Reach North and South Poles!


Outdoor Afro fans learned about Barbara Hillary back in 2009, she not only survived lung cancer, but also took on a trek hardly imaginable to most to the North Pole on skis at age 75!
Here is our Talk Tuesday Blog Talk Radio interview with Hillary from July, 2009 where she humorously shared how it is possible and necessary to live up to ones potential:

Not willing to remain still, this month the venerable Hillary started on another trek, this time to the South Pole.
See the Expenews feed for futher details and to read the rollercoaster of events leading to her journey.
Outdoor Afro wishes Ms. Hillary the best of luck for a safe trip, and recognize the inspiration she is to us all!
Learn more about Barbara Hillary, including booking information for speaking engagements by visiting her website.

The Impact of Oprah’s Yosemite Adventure

It sure has been a great week to love the outdoors and be African American! Last Friday and today, as I tuned in to Oprah and Gayle to see their adventure in Yosemite National Park, I was completely enamored. Beyond the expected funny quips and comical equipment mishaps, I experienced (as if for the first time) a magical moment: moving images of people who looked like me enjoying a National Park.
The show theme was prompted by Outdoor Afro friend Shelton Johnson by a letter he wrote a couple of years ago inviting Oprah to visit. Shelton knew back then that just a tiny sprinkle of Oprah’s fairy dust could bring the National Parks into focus for Americans, particularly for African Americans, in a new and innovative way.
While I have been in the business of making the visual connection between African Americans and the outdoors, the moment I saw Gayle and Oprah with Shelton and Half-Dome in the horizon, I switched seamlessly from purveyor to customer. The beauty of Oprah and Gayle in that stunning natural space helped me visualize myself there.
And apparently I was not alone in my inspiration. Just after the show, my friend’s 78-year-old father phoned to say that he would like to visit Yosemite with her, and they have made a pact to go in 2011.

But the positive impact this show could have on families with young children is important. Those of us in the outdoor recreation field know that parents, especially mothers, are gatekeepers of outdoor experiences for their families. Therefore, in order for outdoor engagement to become a sustained activity for a new community, there needs to be a lot of support to address barriers such as fears and perceptions, equipment, and repeated, positive visual articulation of what it can look like. See this REI ad as a great model.

So Oprah getting out there camping as an African-American woman is significant, in that it demonstrates possibility. Her televised camping experience is the break-through moment that the field has been waiting for, and has needed in order for the outdoors to become relevant to a wider audience.

It is Outdoor Afro’s hope that the buzz that has come from her effort will not only open up new dialog and inspire new audiences, but also convert this new interest into real outdoor engagement and stewardship.

Did you watch the second half of the show today? What did you think?

Visit the Outdoor Afro Community to find people in your area to join in the outdoors!

President Obama Signs America’s Great Outdoors Memorandum

I just got back from Washington DC on Monday after participating on behalf of the Outdoor Afro community in the first ever America’s Great Outdoors conference. This event was designed to bring leaders from around the country to discuss ways to re-connect Americans to the Great Outdoors and hosted the historic signing of the Presidential Memorandum on the topic.
Last Thursday night was the  pre-conference mixer at the Department of Agriculture, where we heard from the Department of the Interior (Ken Salazar), Department of Agriculture (Tom Vilsack), Council on Environmental Quality (Nancy Sutley), and the Environmental Protection Agency (Lisa Jackson). Following a brief program, participants had the opportunity to pre-register for the conference and network among environmental, recreational, retail, and government related leadership from all over the United States.
A highlight of the trip was reconnecting with the historic Breaking the Color Barrier Conference alumni, a subset of a larger group of individuals who represent organizations that work year-round to connect the outdoors to underrepresented communities of color.

Breaking the Color Barrier Alumni

The following Friday morning conference program was held at the Department of the Interior and well orchestrated for both attendees and television audiences, with more networking opportunities.
President Obama, who stood mere feet from where I was seated, impressed upon us in his speech that reconnecting all Americans to the outdoors  honors our collective national heritage. The President said “few pursuits are more satisfying to the spirit than discovering the greatness of America’s outdoors,” which referenced his personal family value of outdoor recreation.

We heard from panelists ranging from the federal government to state leadership, such as New Mexico Governer Bill Richardson; key local influencers such as Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, and Ernesto Pepito, Youth Program Director of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy.
The single most poignant message to emerge from these talks was the imperative to connect urban, underrepresented communities and youth to the outdoors.  Pepito, a young Latino male,  remarked in his panel that youth need to be represented at the table in leadership talks such as these, and also be  introduced to conservation career pathways versus one-time volunteer opportunities. And Gov. Bill Richardson underscored the need for more people of color to be reached, especially in light of America’s changing demographics.
After the morning talks from the stage, participants met in smaller groups to discuss in greater detail the most pressing challenges and share solutions — and senior White House staff was on hand to take notes.

Breakout Session (Photo: Queen Quet)

This conference was just the beginning, and as it concluded, many of us felt a tremendous boost of hope and inspiration for the work we already do that is now supported and made visible in a new national agenda. And we learned that in the months ahead, members of this administration will host regional listening sessions across America.  They will meet with everyone from tribal leaders to farmers, from young people to businesspeople, from elected officials to recreation and conservation groups.
“And the ideas from these meetings will help form a 21st century strategy for America’s great outdoors to better protect our natural landscape and our history for generations to come, ” said President Obama.
Outdoor Afro was honored to be at the table for these inspired and ground-breaking conversations that will result in more Americans discovering a deeper connection to the outdoors, and ultimately to themselves.