Tired of being stuck inside? Sick of walking the same miles of local trail every day? Pining for your favorite and far-flung outdoor spots?
Regardless of how near or far we're able to roam during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can remain connected to the outdoors we love to hike, run, ski, climb, and paddle. Whether you have some time, money, or skills to share, you can become an outdoor advocate for the places you value, even while staying safe at home.
Here are some ways to get involved and stay engaged, even if the farthest you're traveling for now is in your outdoor imaginations.
Start Local: Hey, where'd that trail sign come from?
Whether your local trailheads and parks are overcrowded or closed, soothing havens or sources of pandemic stress, there's likely a land trust, trail group, or other entity that owns, supports, or helps maintain the outdoor spaces you enjoy.
Someone helped build those trails, put up those signs, and raise funds for their protection. Look around—at the trailhead and online—find out who's involved, and thank them by supporting their work. Nonprofits always appreciate a monetary donation, but especially now when giving is down and local use has gone up.
I have no excuse not to support my local land trust, since I live in its watershed and regularly run, bike, and ski on its trails. Find your local land trusts through the Land Trust Alliance. Then pass the word on to friends who are getting out and discovering these places for the first time.
Share Your Skills: Um, does anyone know how to use QuickBooks?
If you use trails (and if you're here you likely do), trailwork is an obvious way to give back, but it's not the only way. What are your personal and professional skills? From accounting to graphic design, nonprofits and recreation groups are often in need of individuals to help with membership, fundraising, outreach, social media, education, and other needs.
Offer up your specialized skills and interest to a local organization or chapter and you will make someone's day. Commitment can be as small as proofreading a brochure or cleaning a trailhead, or as big as heading a committee or joining a board. Follow your unique interests and skills.
Join the Club: From a social distance, please
What do you care about? The outdoors is probably up there, right? Well what specifically about the outdoors? Is it outdoor access, climate change's effect on skiing, your local river or crag, increasing diversity, protecting grizzly bear habitat, getting kids outside...getting kids outside with grizzly bears (well, maybe not the last)?
Take a moment to identify the specific causes and places that matter most to you. Then find the nonprofits addressing and protecting them and join. It's a cliché, but your donation of any size will make a difference. There may even be a tote bag and sticker in it for you.
For me, I love watching and photographing birds, and while I've been a member of many outdoor organizations, somehow I never joined Audubon. That's a ridiculous oversight. So, this month I became a member of our state chapter.
There are a lot of organizations out there, so you may want help narrowing it down. You can discover nonprofits working on climate, food, land, pollution, water, and wildlife issues through 1% for the Planet. You also can visit Charity Navigator, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, and CharityWatch for independent ratings of nonprofit organizations.
Become an Advocate: How can I be an #OutdoorInfluencer?
Coronavirus, politics, the economy—right now the news and life itself can feel overwhelming and doomsie (I just made that word up, but I think it fits the times we live in). None of us can keep up with all of the issues all the time, but lots of little actions can add up to big movements.
Once you've found trustworthy nonprofit organizations (see above) learn about the issues they're addressing that impact you and the places and activities you care most about. Then take action by contacting your representatives, submitting public comments, voting in elections, and spreading the word.
Here are just a few examples of how outdoor nonprofits can keep us informed, engaged, and socially active:
- The Conservation Alliance not only awards grants and advocates for conservation, but has information on understanding the U.S. Public Lands system and how to advocate on behalf of your favorite places.
- The Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition has a wealth of info on LWCF funding, including asking Congress to pass the Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422)
- The Nature Conservancy has an online action center where you can learn about and support a range of campaigns, including the aforementioned Great American Outdoors Act.
- The Outdoor Alliance, which works to improve outdoor recreation access through legislation, funding, and agency collaboration, shares news and actions, like (again) supporting the Great American Outdoors Act.
- The Sierra Club's Take Action section lets you find issues that have local or personal significance, submit public comments, and find your local chapter.
- The Access Fund will send you action alerts for credible threats to climbing access in your state.
- Protect Our Winters (POW) has a robust Take Action section to help protect the places you love from climate change.
None of us can do it all, but all of us can do something for the outdoor areas we personally love and value, even when stuck indoors. As POW states, "find the campaigns that connect with you, then make moves." Whether on the ground or at the computer, we can all be outdoor influencers for the special lands and waters that move and sustain us.