At the Refuge Outdoor Festival, an inaugural campout for inclusion, participants got into the nitty-gritty of hiking, camping, bird watching — and relating to one another. They came away a community eager for next year’s event.
Last month, the first-of-its-kind Refuge Outdoor Festival took place at Tolt-MacDonald Park near Carnation, Wash. Located in Snoqualmie Valley, the lush open space at the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Tolt Rivers overlooks the Cascade foothills.
The festival connected people of color (and their “allies,” according to the website) with activities like hiking, yoga, and camping. But it was a community open to everyone — and outdoor enthusiasts of all “levels.”
Themed activities like “Transitioning From Day Hiker to Mountaineer” and group topics like the “Untold History of Communities of Color in the Outdoors” also allowed festival-goers to pick and choose their experiences.
Turning Talk Into Action
The inaugural campout for inclusion tackled tough topics in open conversations. For example, an interracial couple led a discussion on race and privilege. The topic resulted in a packed house.
“With events like this, we get excited, then it all starts to fade away,” said organizer Chevon Powell. “So I challenged all the people who made it to ‘closing circle’ to do one action or have one conversation in the next week.”
Powell tasked participants and sponsors with putting conversations into action after leaving Refuge.
She suggested some prompts: How do we come to the outdoors in an equitable way? How do we address diversity gaps in adventure? And how do we talk about the outdoors in nonoppressive ways?
“Like the mountains are not here for us to conquer,” she said.
Activities at Refuge Outdoor Festival
Festivarians could choose from a variety of mellow outdoor activities. Many cooked outdoors in a communal space. And the Seattle Audubon Society led a morning bird-watching tour.
“The number of people who wanted to go bird watching at 7 a.m. was really surprising,” Powell said. “We did it three times that day.”
It reminded her to meet festival-goers “wherever they are,” especially in their relationship to nature.
There was a session on bikepacking. And a mobile bike unit was on hand to teach people bike-fixing basics. That came in extra handy for one participant, whose bike broke down after she rode it all the way to the festival.
Refuge Outdoor Festival 2.0 in the Works
About 125 people showed up for the first Refuge Outdoor Festival, about 75 of whom camped out. Powell said it was a remarkable turnout given that she began advertising only two months before the event.
A lot of the weekend was spontaneous. The coffee cart bailed, for example, so campers trekked 10 minutes to town for some Starbucks. A few crashers showed up with the DJs. They had so much fun that they asked Powell if they could come back the next day.
That’s to be expected with a first-time event.
Powell said Outdoor Refuge Festival is coming back, and first-time attendees sounded excited for year two. One said she was happy to get in on the ground level because there might be lines next year.
Based on early feedback, Powell is looking into single-day ticket options, a gear rental partner, more scholarships, and other opportunities for next year. The goal is to make it even easier for people of all colors — and outdoors backgrounds — to participate.
For more information, visit the Refuge Outdoor Festival website.