With the summer right around the corner, people are turning their attention outdoors and looking for fun activities. Experiencing the outdoors is so important, particularly for kids, who through experience can learn to become more responsible stewards of nature. Unfortunately, many barriers to equal access to high-quality outdoor experiences still exist.
In an examination of race in America for National Geographic, writer Alejandra Borunda found that people of color are almost three times more likely to live in “nature-deprived” areas. This impacts those who live in urban environments, but also has existed across the wide open spaces of this country for decades, where U.S. parks and even outdoor resorts were not accessible to people of color. This has led to gaps in access to the great outdoors, parks and recreation. Robert F. Smith and several philanthropic partners are working to help bridge that gap.
Here are three ways Smith is working to help everyone access high-quality outdoor experiences:
Anglers of Honor
A 2018 National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Inclusion report highlighted serious gaps in access for people with disabilities. For example, 26% of parks and recreation agencies still lack programming for individuals with physical disabilities.
One organization working to change this and expand access to outdoor activities for all is Anglers of Honor. Based in Smith’s home state of Colorado, Anglers of Honor works to expand fly-fishing opportunities to people with physical disabilities, including veterans and their families. The organization was started by Smith and Matthew Burkett in the wake of tens of thousands of service members injured from Iraq and Afghanistan returning home.
To date, Anglers of Honor has served 1,290 veterans. Retired Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Rob Altenbernd describes talking to a veteran he knew after he attended an Anglers of Honor event: “What a positive impact on the lives of not only the veterans, but his family as well, and in just a short time!”
Anglers of Honor is unlocking the therapeutic potential of outdoor recreation while bridging critical gaps in access.
Lincoln Hills Cares
One place where Anglers of Honor regularly holds events is at Lincoln Hills, a historic outdoor space in Colorado dedicated to making the outdoors more accessible. Lincoln Hills Cares, a non-profit organization connected to Lincoln Hills, was co-founded by Robert F. Smith and Matthew Burkett to open up outdoor learning and experiences to those who otherwise may not have had that opportunity due to economic, social or family circumstances.
Lincoln Hills has a fascinating history. It was established in 1922 as the country’s only resort in the west accessible to African-Americans. Today, it continues its legacy of creating a more inclusive outdoors by serving more than 103,000 youth since its inception, and facilitating more than 10,000 hours of curriculum.
The Trail Foundation
Urban areas often lack green spaces, but The Trail Foundation, in partnership with Robert F. Smith, is working to change that in Austin, Texas. The Trail Foundation is a non-profit founded in 2003 to “protect, enhance, and connect the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Lady Bird Lake for the benefit of all.”
The Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail boasts more than 4.4 million visitors per year, and is one of Austin’s most popular outdoor spaces. With the help of donors and partners like Smith, The Trail Foundation has made great strides in making their mission a reality. In 2018, The Bridge Foundation completed renovations on The Trail Bridge at Congress Avenue, which updated the decades-old bridge and made necessary safety enhancements.
It’s time for the outdoors to truly be a space that is for everyone. With organizations like Anglers of Honor, Lincoln Hills Cares and The Trail Foundation, we are getting closer every day to making that vision a reality.
Read more about Smith’s work to expand outdoor access.