Nature Time for All: Addressing Barriers to Outdoor Recreation

Judy Lipp, Program Coordinator, Flying Squirrel Adventures

Many of us by now have heard about and understand the need for regular nature time, and perhaps have even implemented a regular routine to support our health and wellness. Scientific research has shown consistently that time in nature can support physical, mental, and emotional well-being at all ages. Indeed, access to nature is a fundamental human right that should be available to all. The pandemic does seem to have raised our collective consciousness about the importance of regular time outside, but follow through is not always easy, and for some it’s not even possible. Despite our many beautiful green spaces, natural areas, and outdoor recreation opportunities here in the Valley, access to these spaces is not distributed equally and there are real barriers to participation for many, but especially for racialized and economically marginalized people.

The inequities that prevent participation in nature programs are many, often complex, and certainly linked to systemic racism and oppression inherent in our society. As providers of nature programming in the Valley, we notice that we don’t often see people who are racialized or marginalized economically regardless of where outings are held. For two years Flying Squirrel Adventures (recently adopted as a program of the Blomidon Naturalists Society) ran a free monthly program for all ages in Kentville and wonderful people attended, who we enjoyed meeting and serving—thank you to all who came and joined us on those outing. However, we were also noticing who was not showing up, and so we have embarked on an ongoing effort to understand the barriers to participation. To this end, we have been partnering with organizations that serve under-represented groups to help address access barriers and we are raising funds to lower barriers that may be related to financial constraints.

So far we have had modest success in diversifying participation thanks to the efforts of community partners like the Portal Youth Outreach Association, Kids Action, Autism Nova Scotia, and others, who have worked with us to bring families and young people to events who would not otherwise have been there. These programs have been made possible through financial support by various groups that help cover a variety of expenses that relate to removing barriers to participation: transportation, suitable outerwear to keep participants safe and comfortable, food access during program time, and direct outreach. Funders include the Province of Nova Scotia (Communities, Culture and Heritage), Nature Canada, Community Health Board Wellness Funds (Eastern, Western and Central Kings), and Kings County (Active Kids, Healthy Kids Fund), as well as individual donations and municipal in-kind contributions (Town of Kentville, Village of Canning, Town of Wolfville). We are grateful to all who support this work.

Our latest program offering—a result of a year of learning and collaboration—is a March Break nature program for youth aged 12-15 years. Wild Explorations 4 Youth is a four-day session modelled on and informed by our weekly recreation program of the same name designed to encourage youth to cultivate healthy connections to nature, themselves, and others, and supports the learning and deepening of outdoor skills, nature awareness, relationship building, and fun in the outdoors. We know adolescence is a tricky period of life at the best of times, but with the pandemic, young people are struggling more than many and we want to offer an outlet for healthy connections, personal growth, nature fun, and learning. This program is offered on a sliding scale (starting at $0). Food is included and transportation support is available. We have spots for 10 youth.

We are also pleased to be partnering with municipalities in Kings County to offer a range of free programs this winter and spring, including but not limited to a Women, Girls, and Female-identifying Hike Series (with Wolfville and Kings County), A Family Night Hike Series (with Wolfville), Spring Thaw Celebration (March 13) and Family Nature Club series in Canning, and a Spring Wild Explorations session for youth. Please check the Flying Squirrel Adventures website or Facebook page for event listings.

We recognize that we are just in the beginning stages of our learning journey as individuals committed to supporting and enabling nature time for all people in our beautiful area. We are just scratching the surface of barriers to participation, many of which are rooted in the colonial and systemically racist history of Canada. We are committed to reckoning with what this means for the work we do and how we show up as individuals. We welcome comments, questions, and concerns that will help us improve our offerings, approach, and ourselves. valleyflyingsquirrels@gmail.com