Why Children of Color Disproportionately Lack Access to Outdoor Spaces

An image of a Black family hiking a trail next to a lake shows the father taking lead. They are smiling and relaxed

Going outside to enjoy parks and green spaces can help decrease stress, promote sharp thinking and creativity and improve mental health overall. However, people of color disproportionately lack access to these outdoor spaces, meaning that children of color are getting less time outside than white children. In the 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends Report, 53% of Americans ages six and over participated in an outdoor activity at least once in 2020, the highest participation rate recorded. However, the same report also found that nearly 75% of outdoor participants were white.

An analysis by Center for American Progress and Hispanic Access Foundation laid out the grim reality behind this statistic — communities of color are almost three times more likely than their white counterparts to live in areas considered “nature-deprived,” with limited access to green spaces.

Robert F. Smith’s Work to Expand Outdoor Access in His Community 

Robert F. Smith grew up in Denver, Colorado, with access to an abundance of green spaces in the Rocky Mountains, which fueled his appreciation for the outdoors. Now, he helps ensure that marginalized populations are able to achieve similar experiences through his philanthropic work with organizations including the National Parks Foundation, Lincoln Hills Cares, and The Open Space Foundation. One of the four pillars of Fund II Foundation, a charitable foundation of which Smith is founding director and President, is focused on environmental conservation and promoting outdoor access to everyone.

In October 2021, the city of Austin commissioned The Trail Foundation to “negotiate and execute” the park operations and maintenance of the Ann and Roy Butler Hike-and-Bike Trail at Town Lake Metropolitan Park in Texas. This collaboration is meant to enhance both the Hike-and-Bike trail itself and surrounding parklands, and will be an extension of The Trail Foundation’s current work maintaining the area. In 2018, Smith personally pledged $1.25 million to the Trail Foundation’s Bridge at Congress Avenue project to help update the bridge to increase safety for runners and cyclists.

“An investment in the Trail is an investment in Austin’s future—one that will keep our most cherished outdoor asset safe, accessible, and enjoyable for many years to come,” said Smith at the project’s groundbreaking. Austin, Texas, is the location of Vista Equity Partners’ headquarters, the investment firm Smith founded in 2000, and of which he serves as Chairman and CEO.

Another way that Smith helps expand outdoor access for undeserving populations is through Colorado-based Lincoln Hills Cares, a nonprofit he co-founded with entrepreneur Matthew Burkett. The organization is dedicated to providing outdoor education to children and families who struggle to access these opportunities due to economic or family situations. The city of Lincoln Hills, Colorado has played an integral role in the Black community for decades, and was established in 1922 as the country’s only western resort accessible to African-Americans. Today, Lincoln Hills Cares hosts “culturally-responsive” programs including the Nizhoni Equestrian Experience, LHC Pathways and the TeamWorks Service Learning Program to over 500 children a year.

Learn more about Smith’s efforts to expand outdoor access, including a highlight video of Anglers of Honor’s past work in Lincoln Hills, Colorado and read the latest on Lincoln Hills Cares Facebook page.