Each year over a million people visit the
Wissahickon Valley in Beautiful Fairmount Park.
The Valley has over 50 miles of trails that offers
runners, hikers, and mountain bikers the opportunity
to explore Fairmount Park’s rich forests, woodland
and creeks. However, many of us urban dwellers
rarely visit places like Forbidden Drive, Devil’s Pool,
Andorra Meadows or Climbers Rock. Some of us just
don’t get out there. Keep reading and you will
discover David McCullough’s efforts to change his
community’s mindset regarding the outdoors.
In just about every way, I feel better when I can get
outside. It’s hard to find the time, though. I’m a
father, husband, graduate student, and professional
science educator. Like a lot of us, I’m really busy.
But when I get out into nature, I feel better physically
and emotionally. I get exercise and push myself to
get stronger. I have time to think. I can smell fresh
air and see new things. I can reflect. I can meet new
people. I feel more alive. And anything helps – from
walking the dog to blowing bubbles in the yard with
For me, nothing beats hiking in the woods. It’s a
perfect combination of being grounded and
transported at the same time. A nice hike makes me
feel connected with nature and all of us in it, but I
also feel like like I’ve gone to some other world.
Maybe that says something about how wrapped up
we are in our daily lives that just walking through
trees and listening to the sounds of nature can seem
like you’re on another planet. There’s no feeling quite
This year, I wanted to do more than just be better
personally – I wanted to join with and help others
experience the same thing. Fortunately, I was chosen
to serve as a Philadelphian leader for Outdoor Afro, a
non-profit organization spreading around the country
with a simple, but powerful, mission: to celebrate and
inspire African American connections to nature. I get
the honor of being the leader for bringing that
mission to Philadelphia.
So how exactly do we celebrate and inspire black
people’s connections with nature? By getting outside
and sharing knowledge about the world around us,
including our special connections to nature. Of
course, this celebration isn’t to exclude anyone–we
just want to bring out stories that are all too often
forgotten, about how Black people have and continue
to be essential to our planet’s health and well being.
At the same time, we’re working to improve our own
health and well being.
In fact, our personal health and the health of our world are
deeply connected. Natural places aren’t intrinsically mysterious
and scary – they belong to us. They nourish us and help us feel
strong. But they also need us. When each of us is interested and
invested in nature, we make choices that benefit our natural world
and each other. We start to make small changes in what we eat
and how we get around, and think more about big choices like
how public money should be used to support parks and green
spaces. Our voice – the voice of Black folk – is important, and
needs to heard. Believe it or not, we can start speaking just by
This, of course, is all a bunch of great ideas. Let’s get down to the
nitty gritty of how a hike with Outdoor Afro – or even on your
own – can make your life and world a richer, happier place.
Exercise – We all know we need exercise. Hiking
just happens to be my favorite kind. There are small
hills and declines that give you a bit more activity
than you might find on a simple walk. And even the
most well kept trails have tree roots and rocks that
you have to step over and navigate, all giving your
body a little more stuff to do. All of this while being
distracted by serene surroundings and great
Of course, hiking is just one of many outdoor
activities. Outdoor Afro gatherings can include
activities like biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing,
and even sailing! The sky is the limit…so far.
Healing time – This one is hard to explain until
you’ve experienced it. But trust me – the outdoors
has healing powers. As your body moves and your
mind relaxes, you find yourself reflecting and
thinking about your life, and yourself, in new ways.
You release tension and embrace the calm sights and
sounds of nature. Make no mistake, a good hike does
the spirit good, too.
Fellowship – While Outdoor Afro is new here in
Philadelphia, the program has been going strong for
five years and most participants come for the
fellowship. Outdoor Afro draws in people from all
walks of life through a common interest in getting
outside and enjoying nature. It’s an amazing way to
meet new friends, hear new stories, and get new
There’s a special kind of togetherness that comes
from enjoying healing exercise and beautiful
surroundings with good people.
Learning – One of my favorite things about
Outdoor Afro is the emphasis on sharing
knowledge. We talk about the plants, animals,
rocks, and waterways that make up the environment
for each of our hikes. Also, it’s important that we
talk about the history of these regions, and in
particular, the history of black people. We have
been so important to this country, but our
contributions are too often overlooked. Outdoor
Afro wants to bring those stories back to forefront,
and make them part of our common knowledge.
While my job as leader is to find and share
information, we know all of you have deep
knowledge, too. Outdoor Afro is a great place to
share your own expertise about nature, history,
Philadelphia, or even stories about your own family.
We all know so much. Come share your knowledge
with Outdoor Afro!
If you want to join Outdoor Afro-Philadelphia on
the trails and wherever our journeys take us, you
can find us at http://www.meetup.com/Outdoor-
Afro-Philadelphia and on Facebook by searching
for Outdoor Afro-Philadelphia. All of our
scheduling is online, so log on in and join us in
feeling better, one hike at a time!