10 Outdoor Organizations to Give Back to This Year
Hiking & Camping Expert Jessica LaPolla lists 10 organizations that are doing awesome work in the outdoor space to consider donating to or volunteering with this year!
We all enjoy the outdoors in some capacity, through hiking, skiing, climbing, cycling, backpacking, and so many other excellent avenues of outdoor recreation. The outdoor places and outdoor adventures that we love and the places we have yet to fall in love with are all too often threatened by a myriad of issues, mostly human-related, and it is our job to help preserve these spaces for future generations. It is also essential to make these outdoor spaces and activities inclusive and accessible for all. These ten outstanding organizations face big environmental and cultural challenges head-on. You can help give back to them by volunteering your time, donating, or simply advocating for change within your community.
Founded by Jim Kern in 1989, Big City Mountaineers strives to make the outdoors accessible to youth in underrepresented communities. They provide free, fully outfitted, professionally led, and organized backcountry trips for kids ages 8-18. These trips allow the children to connect with nature through outdoor activities, build self-confidence and leadership skills, and build knowledge and skills. Over the last 30 years, Big City Mountaineers has led nearly 800 expeditions, serving over 10,000 children. Though headquartered in Colorado, they operate out of seven different cities around North America including Denver, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California. BCM promotes positive values, social competencies, and positive identity, valuing the diversity in youths. Visit their website for more information on their mission and ways you can get involved.
The National Forest Foundation leads forest and grasslands conservation efforts and promotes responsible recreation in America’s forests. The NFF uses community education to encourage collaborative restoration and conservation efforts. With programs all over the country, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved. Check out their Tree Planting Programs and visit a National Forest near you during National Forest Week. Check out their website to learn more about these programs and other ways to give.
3. Access Fund
Founded in 1991, Access Fund is a non-profit centered around climbing policy and advocacy, protecting the country’s climbing regions and public lands. As the sport of rock climbing continues to grow, Access Fund fights to educate climbers and preserve the incredibly fragile ecosystems. They strive to protect land for future generations by buying threatened land and restoring crags. They also advocate for safety by replacing aging bolts at crags and educating climbers. You can get involved by volunteering, adopting a crag, or donating. To learn more, visit their website.
One of the newer organizations on this list, Black Girls Hike RVA, was founded in 2020 by two friends and educators, Shara and Nicole. Both avid hikers, the lack of diversity on the trails was evident. They hope to create a safe and inclusive space for women of color and to inspire people of color to get outside and to feel comfortable taking up space in nature. They offer group and private hikes for BIPOC women of all colors and abilities and Family and Friends Events that are open to everyone. Their goal is to do more community outreach and to increase the number of hikes and events that they host. To learn more about BGH, check out their website and consider sending a donation their way.
Venture Out Project leads backpacking and wilderness trips for the queer and transgender communities. They also conduct trans-inclusion workshops for educators, adventure professionals, summer camps, and more. The Venture Out Project envisions a world where LGBTQ+ youth and adults and allies of all genders can thrive outdoors in a fun and safe environment. Historically, LGBTQ+ folks have faced discrimination in outdoor spaces and sports and still do to this day. Venture Out hopes to change that. They offer day hikes, weekend programs, and private outdoor trips. To learn more about their travels or donate, check out their website.
With 100 years of conservation work under their belt, the NPCA acts as the voice of America’s National Parks, working with the National Parks Service to protect and preserve the parks for future generations. With a community of policy experts, lobbyists, and educators, the NPCA celebrates and defends National Parks through advocacy and community engagement. From Glacier National Park to the Grand Canyon, the NPCA has protected parks from threats including mining, landfills, human development, and more. To take a look at the impact of the NPCA over the last century and to donate or get involved, visit their website.
Indigenous Environmental Alliance Network is an alliance of Indigenous Peoples whose mission is to protect the sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination and exploitation by respecting and adhering to Indigenous knowledge and natural law. From fighting climate change to organizing and aiding in Covid-19 relief efforts, IEN is always looking to a better future. Check out their numerous campaigns and Indigenous Feminisms seminars, and other ways to get involved and give back on their website.
A global organization with scientists on the ground in over 70 countries, The Nature Conservancy is tackling some of the most important and pressing conservation issues of our generation. They consistently aim to protect the world's land, oceans, rivers, and lakes, by fostering collaboration between communities, governments, businesses, and nonprofits. From advocating for clean drinking water to rebuilding coral reefs, The Nature Conservancy works to create a better and more sustainable future. For more information or to get involved in their worldwide efforts, visit their website.
Soul Trak is a D.C.-based non-profit organization that connects communities of color to outdoor spaces while building a coalition of diverse outdoor leaders. Their mission is to build diverse cohorts of outdoor leaders and to create equitable access by making the outdoors a more inclusive space. Soul Trak offers a number of weekend programs involving outdoor experiences for families and youth and also offers a student ambassador program for college students at Howard University. To get involved in a program or to give back, visit their website.
With countless numbers of animal species in danger of extinction in the near future, the Defenders of Wildlife seek to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats, as well as prevent species from becoming imperiled in the first place. Defenders of Wildlife works on the state, tribal, and local levels to develop programs centered around education and advocacy. By defending conservation laws and promoting coexistence between humans and wildlife, they aim to create a sustainable Earth using innovative science, technology, and policy change. Visit their website for a look at the many species of wildlife they protect and consider getting involved in their cause.
This list of local and national organizations represents a generation of folks with passion and grit who are fighting for the natural world, including all of the lands, animals, and communities that we love. They are all unique in their goals and missions but have one thing in common: they are working towards a better future. Consider getting involved or donating to one of these excellent organizations, and let us know which one you choose! In the meantime, get outside and have some fun. Just remember to try to leave the spaces you enjoy better than you found them. Happy hiking!