I spent this past weekend in Carnation — my sleepy childhood hometown along the Snoqualmie River where farms and ranches line the highway and mist clings to the valley trees in the early hours of the morning. I didn’t drive out to admire the hills painted in fall foliage or to look for spawning salmon under the Tolt-MacDonald Bridge, although both are popular activities in the autumn. The reason I was there was to attend the Refuge Outdoor Festival in its inaugural year.
Refuge is a festival for people of color and their allies to explore and celebrate nature, diversity, and life. The festival was sponsored by the Coalition and many of our partners, including REI, The Nature Conservancy, Washington Trails Association, Washington State Parks Foundation, The Mountaineers, Conservation Northwest and more — all groups like us that realize diversity and inclusion in the outdoors is vital to the future of our outdoor spaces as our communities become more diverse.
The thirty hours I spent at Refuge were filled with inspired discussions, powerful testimonies, and a sense of community and solidarity rarely felt by people of color outside. At noon on the first day, as small group of us sat in the baking sun fighting tears while sharing our stories, I found my mind and body letting out a collective sigh of relief and release, grateful to be surrounded by my people.
Reflecting on my experience outdoors, I was fortunate to have been raised in a family that camped in the moss-blanketed Olympics, snowboarded on the slopes of the Cascades, and hiked the wildflower-lined trails on Rainier. But even for someone like me who grew up with access to outdoor recreation, the outdoors isn’t always a welcoming place. The number of times I’ve experienced shameless racism on the trail would be shocking if I hadn’t already come to expect it.
Merriam-Webster defines “refuge” as “a place that provides shelter or protection,” and that’s what Refuge Outdoor Festival provided — a space for a community that not only shares a love of being outside, but also shares culture and understands the struggle people of color can have navigating outdoor recreation. Refuge won’t happen again for another year, but I’ll continue striving to open up spaces for conversations and community year-round, so that we can have a diverse and inclusive outdoors.