It was a hot, humid morning in June when a group of us set out to do some hiking in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest (Ancestral lands of the Cherokee peoples) near Clayton, Ga. Our plan was to hike 2-miles to the Martin Creek Falls via the Bartram Trail and then head back to finish up with a short hike down the Warwoman Dell Trail. But that plan quickly eroded. Once we got on the trail and we started ascending and then ascending, even more, I realized we might be on the wrong trail. I informed the group that we may have taken the wrong trail but surprisingly, no one really seemed to mind. We didn’t have a cell phone signal to check out our maps so we just kept going. And I’m so glad that we did.
For the next few miles, we hiked and shared and laughed and got to know each other a little more. Andrea, who is originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, shared her stories of going to the Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona and how incredibly beautiful it is. Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona is a Colombian National Park on the Carribean coast that features two very different ecosystems - the mountains and sea. She says, “It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been! It was so cool because the mountains intersected with the beach which was so different.”
One thing that quickly became clear to me as we hiked is that each one of us feels a deep connection to the outdoors. It was in our words, our actions, our stories. As Latinx people, that strong relationship with the outdoors comes directly from our ancestors. We are descendants of fishermen, hunters, farmers, ranchers, lovers of wildlife and the land, true environmentalists.
All of our hikers had gone hiking before but they weren’t sure whether they’d been to a National Forest or not. After a little investigation, we found out that everyone had been! Sonia, who is also from Barranquilla, Colombia, had recently gone hiking with a group of friends in the Fort Mountain State Park, which is situated in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, and remembers enjoying it but says, “I haven't done much hiking outside of that trip.”
“Having someone to go with is a huge reason why we’ve never gone,” said Sonia and Andrea. That seems to be the same sentiment for other Latinx hikers, as well. Michael, who a long time Latinxhiker community member, has been hiking in National Forests before but there are still barriers holding him back from frequenting them. “As far as immediate things that keep me from going it’s usually time and depending on location having someone to go with - like I wouldn’t have a problem going to a smaller trail on my own, and I do...I like running on them actually, but going out over an hour or a new place I usually like a travel buddy.”
We’re going to continue to break down barriers that stop people from getting outdoors. Having group hikes like this one is just the beginning! We have plans for at least two more group hikes this year, including an accessibility hike for those that can’t participate on traditional hiking trails. Whether we gather together and experience the outdoors as a group or solo we only grow closer to understanding our roots. As Andrea stated on the hike, “This is a beautiful reminder of why the earth is so important.” #itsallyours