Finding Community in the Outdoors
I got hooked on exploring the outdoors through trail running seven years ago. I quickly discovered that I was most content when outside on trails, and I was just giddy over all the beautiful places my feet could take me.
At first, I did almost all my exploring alone. Making friends, especially women, to share the trails with felt hard. I would occasionally join a group trail run or invite a friend on a weekend adventure, but I was often too timid to ask new acquaintances to join me. I knew that there was a community of people that shared my passions, but I didn’t have the courage to step into that community.
It is only in the last few years that my network of friends to explore with has grown. In 2017, I signed up for a rugged trail race in the north Georgia mountains. Several members of the Trailheads (the local trail running group) were headed to the race as well, and they sensed I could use a little help. They introduced themselves to me and supported me during the race and treated me like family. Suddenly I had some familiar faces to run with, and then a few more, and soon I found myself exploring more with friends than alone.
I’m especially grateful that I now have a group of women in my life that make me feel strong and supported on a regular basis. The version of me that was too timid to ask new friends to go on a run or join for a weekend adventure is long gone. (In fact, I’ll just pause right here to ask YOU to join me for TB&C’s Trail Run Tuesdays, each Tuesday starting March 12th! All paces welcome!) We all benefit from supportive networks that remind us of our self-worth, make us laugh, and let us be heard, and having a networks strong women to share outdoors with has made all the difference for me.
There are more and more groups and events popping up that create spaces for women to come together in the outdoors. The magic that happens in theses spaces resonates with me, and it has inspired me to look for opportunities to create these types of spaces for myself and others. With this idea in mind, I created Collectively Outside, an organization with a mission to strengthen community through increased participation in outdoor activities that foster personal growth, physical health, and an appreciation of natural spaces. The first program of Collectively Outside is, quite predictably, a Women’s Trail Festival. The event is a weekend of group runs or hikes, workshops, discussions, and shared adventures in the north Georgia mountains. The festival creates space for women to gain new skills and confidence in the outdoors, and to celebrate each other and the beauty of the north Georgia mountains.
But let’s be real, this isn’t just about women or trail running. People experience the outdoors in their own unique way, from enjoying the flowers blooming in the yard to exploring a nearby park to summiting mountain peaks. There is no one-size-fits-all way to connecting with the natural world, and women are just one of many groups that are often feel underrepresented in the mainstream narrative of outdoor recreation. We all benefit from a relationship with the outdoors, and we all deserve a community, however big or small, to support us and share our experiences.
Making outdoor spaces more inviting is not only beneficial to our quality of life and the strength of our communities, it’s an imperative component in safeguarding our natural world. To appreciate and protect the natural world that sustains us, we must first feel our connection to it. I hope that Collectively Outside can play a role in facilitating connection and community in the outdoors, through programs like the Women’s Trail Festival and by supporting many organizations that are already leading the way in this work. I don’t know exactly what the next steps will look like, but I can tell you that I’ll probably figure it out on the trails with friends.
Erin is the Event and Outreach Coordinator for the Haw River Assembly, a grassroots non-profit that protects the Haw River and Jordan Lake. She spends her days planning events like river cleanups and environmental education field trips. She is also the creator of Collectively Outside and Women’s Trailfest. She loves just about any activity that will get her outside, but trail running is her preferred way of adventuring. She feels most alive when surrounded by supportive women on the trails. She also really loves breakfast sandwiches, high fives, and awkward dance moves. Oh, and she also sweats alot.