Why is access to nature important?
Watching the sunrise from atop a 14er, hiking through the fall leaves, rafting along white-capped rapids with friends, or relaxing in the cool grass of a local park. Across the West, getting outside to enjoy our abundant natural landscapes is often thought of as one of the greatest benefits of calling this region home.
Experiencing our wild landscapes and flowing rivers is part of our culture. These places fuel a booming outdoor recreation economy throughout the West and are a valuable asset for communities looking to transition away from extractive industries. Access to nature shouldn’t be a luxury afforded to only the few, but a rightful privilege bestowed to us all.
What drives inequity?
Spending time outdoors in nature can be healing and is a key advantage of living in the West, yet access to outdoor experiences is not and historically has not been shared equally with low-income and racially and ethnically diverse communities. These communities face real challenges and barriers to access, including physical proximity to green spaces or affordable transportation to reach them, a lack of feeling comfortable and safe in those places, and financial limitations for recreational activities and equipment.
What is WRA doing to advance equitable access?
Over the past two years, WRA developed policy opportunities and started coalitions in Colorado and New Mexico that resulted in $110 million in appropriations to conservation in Colorado and $95 million in New Mexico. Both states committed, thanks to work by WRA, to create official state plans to significantly expand protected areas and established offices of outdoor recreation. The next two years are critical to ensure the outdoor recreation industry positively engages with the conservation community to create strong plans that embody the dual need for improved, more diverse outdoor recreation opportunities combined with expanded natural areas for biodiversity protection and climate resilience.
WRA worked with a coalition of 60+ outdoor advocacy and conservation organizations to secure the establishment and funding of Colorado’s Outdoor Equity Grant Program, additional appropriations for New Mexico’s Outdoor Equity Grant Program, and helped lay the groundwork for a national outdoor equity grant program – all important steps toward removing barriers to outdoor access and educational opportunities for underserved populations.
WRA is committed to working toward a future where all our youth and communities across the West, regardless of their income, zip code, or historic inequities, have opportunities to experience the incomparable natural beauty of our region. We are breaking down the barriers that stand between people and the lands and waters our region is known for so that they can be enjoyed equally by all.