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Outdoors Elitism? Club Tackles Exclusion Head On

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[leadin]The outdoors culture can be intimidating, and often it comes dressed in stereotypes. For the newbie, the non-traditional participant, or the uninitiated, the realm of outdoors stores, bike shops, and crags can be downright spooky.[/leadin]


Just think of all the negative terms surrounding a newish skier (Jerry, Gaper), cyclist (Fred), or climber (Gumby), and it’s pretty obvious that the experts aren’t always exactly nice or helpful.

The nonprofit “adventure club” UpaDowna of Colorado Springs tackles this exclusion head on. Last year, it introduced thousands of people to the outdoors via more than 100 free outings. Founder Steve Hitchcock created the organization in 2007 after seeing the positive effect time in the outdoors can induce in people’s lives.

In the editorial below, Hitchcock explains his motivation for starting UpaDowna, a group that embraces everyone who would like to spend time outside.

I started UpaDowna as a response to witnessing folks being ignored in a local outdoors shops. They didn’t fit the “look” of the kitted-out outdoor pro. Often wearing khakis and dress shirts, these outsiders don’t fit the mold. This is crap.

The guy I watched enter the shop in his khakis on one particular day came in slowly and looked nervously around, obviously a bit uncomfortable. But he walked deeper into the store, touching items here and there, obviously trying to fit in or, at least, seem in place, but also not draw too much attention.

Well, the employees that saw him tried hard to avoid him. Not wanting to bother with the effort of the hello and no doubt endless questions about “common sense” outdoors subjects — denier of a bag fabric; what is a KN?; what is a tricam?; how does this stove work — things that every “true outdoors person” should know.

UpaDowna group on backpacking trip

This too is crap. After a few minutes, the guy in khakis left. No one had said hello, no one asked him how his day was, or if they could help him. No one cared. Not one employee saw this as an opportunity to gain another member of the tribe, another potential enthusiast, an environment steward, a friend, or, on the most basic level, a customer.

I started UpaDowna because as an outdoor enthusiast I felt the outdoor community was failing, at least in my area. The unity was gone, we had devolved from a group of people that wanted to enjoy nature at its finest, we wanted to share the beauty of the planet and get the old heart pumping with a little excitement.

The outdoors community can be a self-important, exorbitantly expensive, and complicated creature of exclusivity. How the hell did we manage to take this base ability to get out into nature and turn it into a competition? And, more importantly, why? Why do we segregate, why do we exclude, why do we need some rite of passage to include others in our passionate pursuit of the outdoors?

Nature Is The Level Playing Field

UpaDowna was created to involve and inspire. UpaDowna wants everyone to know the power of being in nature. We know nature makes folks feel better, we know it makes us stronger, we know it is the cure all for all. And we are not going to stand idly by and watch people slowly disregard the power of nature.

Club offers SUP outings, trail cleanups, indoor climbing nights

UpaDowna is building a community of passionate nature enthusiasts that will bring all walks of life into all aspects of adventure play; whether it be in an urban setting, a local park, or some far-off land. Every single person deserves the opportunity to get in tune with nature, feel its power, and, as a result, become empowered to lead others to the well.

Outdoors Knowledge Should Be Shared

Maybe the problem with the “khakis man” and the store I mentioned earlier has more to do with a lack of self-confidence on the part of the employee. The shop workers may have thought what if this person out learns me, out runs me, out climbs, out paddles, out pedals…. What if they take from me my power of knowledge? And that is the problem. We should embrace the ignorance and educate the willing. Knowledge is to be shared, not locked away.

UpaDowna is an educational platform, but not the pen and paper type. There are no lectures, there are no qualifiers. We champion community as a whole, the relationship we have is from neighborhood to neighborhood. Race, religion, socioeconomic status, where you came from or where you’re going, your ability or disability, your knowledge or ignorance. None of this would exclude you from our nonprofit. UpaDowna exists to make life better, and we use nature to do it.

–UpaDowna is a 501c3 nonprofit based in Colorado Springs, Colo. In 2015, the group offered more than 100 free opportunities to get outdoors and paddle, hike, climb, bike, ski, snowshoe, clean up trails, and more. Learn more at Upadowna.org.

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