Urban Adventures In America’s National Parks

Bikers enjoy a fall day at Philadelphia’s Valley Green in Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the nation.Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™
Bikers enjoy a fall day at Philadelphia’s Valley Green in Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the nation. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

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

my kids.

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

like it.

Part of Philadelphia’s 4,400-acre Fairmount Park, Valley Green is located along the Wissahickon Creek. Visitors to the park often partake in hiking, fishing and biking activities.Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™
Part of Philadelphia’s 4,400-acre Fairmount Park, Valley Green is located along the Wissahickon Creek. Visitors to the park often partake in hiking, fishing and biking activities. Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

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.

A child enjoys the outdoor pleasures of Kelly Drive, one of the gateways to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the United States.Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™
A child enjoys the outdoor pleasures of Kelly Drive, one of the gateways to Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park, the largest urban park in the United States. Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia™

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

getting outside.

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

conversations.

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

perspectives.

There’s a special kind of togetherness that comes

from enjoying healing exercise and beautiful

surroundings with good people.

Rollerblading enthusiasts enjoy the smooth and flat 8.4 mile path that winds from the Philadelphia Museum of Art along Kelly Drive and West River DriveCredit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™
Rollerblading enthusiasts enjoy the smooth and flat 8.4 mile path that winds from the Philadelphia Museum of Art along Kelly Drive and West River Drive.Credit: Photo by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia™

 

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!

Members of Outdoor Afro in Yosemite National Park Photo courtesy of Outdoor Afro
Members of Outdoor Afro in Yosemite National Park Photo courtesy of 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!

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