“I wish you could see my heart and the love I have for this organization, it honestly has changed my life,” shares Natalia Ospina, co-program coordinator for the Denver chapter of Latino Outdoors. With roots in the past, a present growing movement, and vision for the future, Latino Outdoors is a network of leaders committed to engaging Latinos/as in the outdoors, connecting familias and youth with nature, and supporting a community of storytellers to explore and share their personal experiences. Latino Outdoors allows participants to creatively document their cultural connections to conservation, the environment, and the Great American Outdoors with the world.
The Denver chapter of Latino Outdoors, co-managed by Natalia Ospina and Bianca Garcia, organizes and leads trips for latinos/as to explore Colorado’s wild spaces through monthly group hikes, camping excursions, rock climbing expeditions, fishing trips and more. Latino Outdoors is a non-profit organization and works solely through the efforts of volunteers such as Natalia and Bianca, providing free excursions to attendees. All gear is donated by the organizations’ partners or through grant funding, and all organization and leadership for the excursions are headed by unpaid volunteers.
“By chance, the Denver chapter is made up of individuals who identify as women,” continues Natalia. “We have a sisterhood, we work together, share our love for the outdoors and empower one another. It's a space where I feel very supported.” Natalia was born in Colombia, but spent most of her child in North Carolina. After battling with chronic Lyme Disease, she made her way to Denver to see a specialist and began hiking Colorado’s mountains. “I found that hiking and connecting with nature and the outdoors benefited me not only by increasing my physical activity, but it helped me become emotionally stronger, I found it very healing.”
Natalia soon found the Latino Outdoors organization and jumped right in. “Latino Outdoors is special in that it reframes the narrative of who can be outdoors,” she continued. “When I first moved to Colorado and started hiking, I didn’t see a lot of people of color out enjoying the mountains the way I was. I still don’t see a lot of people of color represented in outdoor clothing company catalogues or by outdoor industry leaders. Latino Outdoors works to reframe the narrative of who can be outdoors. It opens up opportunities for people who may not have experienced outdoor activities with their families growing up, or who may not see themselves represented in the outdoor community.”
Natalia and her fellow volunteers lead 8-12 trips per year and work to teach participants outdoors skills. All volunteers are Wilderness First Aid trained, and have had training on orienteering, and wilderness survival. They pass these skills on to participants, empowering them to begin exploring the outdoors on their own, and encouraging them to earn their own outdoor certifications so that they too can become leaders within the organization.
“Through our work, we hope to be able to provide families, all different generations of people, with the confidence and knowledge that there is a place for them in the outdoors,” Natalia continues. “Whether that means a certification or learning how to backpack, we encourage and empower all our participants. Many of us feel so close to our ancestors and our lineage, and being outdoors allows us to connect back to the land, reminding us where we are from. Much of the work that we do at Latino Outdoors is rewriting the narrative of who can belong in the outdoors and showing that the outdoors is for all. Working towards equity takes time, and many emotionally exhausting conversations, but we hope our work begins to build that bridge between the Latino community and the outdoor community. And in the meantime, we can share our mutual love for nature and the healing powers of spending time in the great outdoors.”