Diversify the Outdoors

Sharing a passion for the outdoors


Background Information

Will Griffin has a love and passion for the outdoors. During his time at Alzar school, he was exposed to new perspectives regarding race and inclusion in nature. Upon Will’s return to Cincinnati, he took a closer look at these issues and found that in a survey conducted by the national park service in 2010, African Americans, who make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for only 7 percent of national forest visits. Hispanics, who make up about 16 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for less than 9 percent of national forest visits. Caucasians, who make up 64 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 78 percent of national forest visits. These disparities can primarily be attributed to two things. First, early American conservationists like John Muir and Madison Grant promoted racist and exclusionist ideologies that permeated into national park jurisdiction. These sentiments were perpetuated by segregation throughout the Jim Crow Era and their effects have caused a cultural unfamiliarity between people of color and the outdoors. Second, In 2011, scholar Carolyn Finney, looked at 44 issues of Outside magazine between 1991 and 2001 and found that, of 4,602 published pictures, only 103 depicted African Americans.  Will has been a passionate advocate for the outdoors since he was a little kid and found himself appalled by the lack of diversity in the areas he was exploring while doing the activities he loves.

Implementation of Project

Knowing that this systemic issue can’t be solved by one person, Will wanted to take the first steps to address this in his community and expose POC and those who are economically disadvantaged to the outdoors, hopefully cultivating a passion in them as adolescents. Will wanted to share this experience with the students who belong to the organization called Cincinnati Squash Academy (or CSA), which pulls from a predominantly African American and Hispanic area.  With the help of this organization Will wanted to begin to bridge this diversity gap and embark on a variety of trips that expose students to a wide range of activities starting with a nature hike in a local park.

Results of Project

On November 6th 2021, Will brought together a group of 10 students from the Cincinnati Squash Academy, most of whom had little to no experience in nature. He recruited help from three of his friends and two of the program coordinators at CSA and couldn’t have done it without their help. The day hike took place at a local park called California Woods, where he incorporated some fun activities designed to be educational.  He knew it would be important to instill in the students more of a connection to nature than just having a presence in it, so he researched various age appropriate activities to help solidify this connection.  Will created a bingo style scavenger hunt and as they went on their hike, the students shouted out with glee their discoveries. Will also laminated these cards, along with a few trail maps, to expose the students to navigational skills with a compass. One unique aspect of Cincinnati is that it was underwater millions of years ago so our city is home to an incredible variety of fossils. Will brought examples of the fossils that he has collected over time to share and they spent time searching for fossils in a nearby creek bed. Will also thought it was important to share the rich history of our Native American ancestors who occupied these lands. So, he designed an activity that incorporated learning about Native American shelters with a hands-on building activity. Before they left, all the students were given stickers from the park to inspire them to visit new national parks and continue exploring nature.

What’s Next

Because of the success of this project’s first outing, Will is already planning a paddling trip down a local river. He hopes to grow the number of students in subsequent excursions and plans on designing and implementing many more trips (and possibly an expedition during his senior year).  After Will graduates high school in 2023, the project will be passed onto his younger sister, who shares his passion for the outdoors and also volunteers with the Cincinnati Squash Academy.

“I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share my love of the outdoors with a group of students who were so eager to embrace this new experience and I look forward to the future possibilities this project holds.” — Will Griffin