A community first and an organization second is the goal of the national Latinx-led initiative Latino Outdoors. Inspiring, connecting, and engaging Latino communities to create leaders in conservation and outdoor education is their mission.  

With chapters nation-wide, Latino Outdoors connects and supports participants through a network of programming and events, and Zydalis Bauer spoke with Lucas McDiarmid, Outings Leader for Latino Outdoors Western Mass, and Sarah Trujillo Rippere Thornbrugh, Outings Leader and Ambassador, to learn more about the organization.    

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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: A community first and an organization second is the goal of the national Latinx-led initiative Latino Outdoor. Inspiring, connecting, and engaging Latino communities to create leaders in conservation and outdoor education is their mission.

With chapters nationwide, Latino Outdoors connects and supports participants through a network of programing and events, and I spoke with leaders from Latino Outdoors Western Mass to learn more.

Sarah Trujillo Rippere Thornbrugh, Latino Outdoors Western Mass: Our chapter actually just began about a year ago, in October of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic.

And a lot of us were already doing work in outdoor equity and recreation and doing research and conservation and looking for some company and some community that we could relate to. And we felt that it was really important to have representation in our natural spaces and in these conversations about conservation and land management here.

And we wanted to really leverage all the resources that the national organization has to offer.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Speaking about that representation, this organization is creating a national community of Latino leaders in environmental and conservation.

Why is there an emphasis on serving this particular demographic?

Lucas McDiarmid, Latino Outdoors Western Mass: Well, I think it’s important to understand that in the outdoors, in the environmental conversations, the Latine community has largely been left out. And so, what we’re doing is we’re creating equity in those conversations. We’re creating a place for our people to be brought to the table.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Lucas and Sara, you both are involved as outings leaders and Sara as an ambassador.

When did your passion and interest for the outdoors begin and what does it mean for you to have this type of role in this organization?

Sarah Trujillo Rippere Thornbrugh: I’ve always loved being outdoors. I think my family and certainly our culture has always embraced conservation, and I think finding this community has given me family away from family, which is incredibly important.

And I think most of us are transplants here, to this western Massachusetts area. And so, it’s just been incredibly wonderful to have people that I could connect with on both of those planes because oftentimes operating within these natural spaces, in science and science, education, and conservation has oftentimes made me feel like I had to check my culture at the trailhead or at the door.

So, it’s wonderful to be in a space where I can bring those two together.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Aside from exploring and appreciating the outdoors and nature, talk to me about the other life skills that people are gaining from being a part of this organization.

Lucas McDiarmid: Well, we’re talking about having deep conversations. We’re talking about our culture, we’re talking about bringing people to the table to learn about who they are, and exploring how that applies to the outdoors.

We’re talking about interacting with different organizations. We’ve worked in the past with Holyoke Bikeped. We’ve worked with Appalachian Mountain Trail. Mount Grace has been an absolutely critical partner in a lot of what we’ve done during Latino Conservation Week.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: And leadership opportunities as well, correct?

Lucas McDiarmid: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. We have a lot of educational experiences that are meant to promote self- growth and self-development.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This Saturday, you all are hosting a bird walk at Forest Park. Talk to me about that event and other events that you have coming up.

Lucas McDiarmid: Our birding event is meant to kick off — it’s our celebration for Hispanic Latino Heritage Month. One of our members, our program coordinator, is an ecologist, a bird ecologist, and he is very enthusiastic. He is currently running a bird banding program with participants across Western Mass.

And so, together we’re coming together with our community and with our partners to help the public interact with birds, to learn more about the species that are here actually in Forest Park and in the Springfield, Holyoke area.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: It’s been almost a year since you all have been a chapter for Latino Outdoors.

What have been some of your favorite moments or events that have taken place?

Sarah Trujillo Rippere Thornbrugh: One that comes to my mind is our very first event — it was a virtual event, just to try and honor safety and make sure everybody was calling in from a safe space. But ,we were able to partner with the Harvard Forest here in western Massachusetts in Petersham and offer a virtual tour.

And we had people from our community calling in from all over the country and really highlighting some wonderful efforts that are going on here in western Massachusetts and being able to represent, you know, a presence there and really connect with a space here.

And it was it was really wonderful to see. And great, great information about the Harvard Forest. We all got to learn together.

Lucas McDiarmid: So, we had our big Latino Conservation Week celebration and we held that at Scott Tower and we led guided tours up to the tower, which was a great experience for me. That was my first Latino Outdoors event as well. I had jumped in kind of in the middle of the planning of that as a newer member of the organization.

And it was just great to see all the folks, all the different backgrounds that came together to make the event happen in partnership with us, but also the members of the public that came to to see, some of them for the first time, a gem right in their own city, right in their backyard.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: For those who may be curious or are unsure if the outdoors is for them, what message would you like to share with them?

Lucas McDiarmid: Well, the outdoors is for everybody. You know, that’s really the message here. The outdoors is for everybody.

You don’t have to be an expert climber. You don’t have to be an expert hiker. There are all sorts of different ways to get involved with the outdoors around you. There’s hiking, there’s kayaking, there’s canoeing, there are small trails.

A lot of our communities have conservation lands that are pretty well managed that have some, some easier trails. And then you do have the harder hikes, like Mount Tom.

Sarah Trujillo Rippere Thornbrugh: I think, too, it’s important just to offer an open invitation and that’s really what we’re here for, for people to come out and meet some new people and try some new experiences and see how it fits you.

You know, there’s a lot that Western Massachusetts has to offer in terms of access points and opportunities to connect with nature. And, I know all of us in the western Massachusetts region have really benefited from those opportunities, and we just want to share them with folks.

So, it’s our job and our privilege and our honor to do everything we can to create a welcoming and safe space for folks to come out and see what works for them.