Take caution and check for road closures due to wildfires in the North Cascades.
April 24, 2023

Licia Sahagun
Wild Whatcom

Nature Programs Address Inclusion, Accessibility for Adults

For participants in Wild Whatcom’s new nature programs, the focus is on the journey, not the destination. The local, outdoor education nonprofit now offers two new programs to help underserved adults get outside on their own terms.

Wonder Walks is designed for adults (ages 18 and up) who need or prefer low grade, low barrier trails and outdoor surfaces, and a slow moving pace. These weekly nature outings meet every Friday, 1:00-2:30PM, and focus on a new park or trail each month. A typical outing includes community-building activities, nature walks and discussions, journaling and creative activities.

“We focus on place-based themes and noticing what’s happening in the moment, and over time,” explains Kate Kohut, Community and Volunteer Programs Manager. “Participants' interests and observations guide our discussions, and we stop frequently to appreciate small wonders that are easy to miss when moving fast. Returning to the same location helps us recognize the changing landscape week to week.”

The original idea for Wonder Walks came from requests by older adults for outdoor education that was physically accessible. But as Licia Sahagun, Wild Whatcom’s Executive Director recalls, “During the planning process, we started hearing from adults of all ages who wanted to get outside with others but found many outdoor recreation options - trail running, mountain biking, and other fast-paced activities - inaccessible. It was a good opportunity to go deeper in our approach to inclusion. We know that lots of folks in our community can enjoy Wonder Walks across a range of physical abilities, neurodivergent experiences, learning styles, and limited time availability.”

The other new program offering is Out and About, designed for adults (ages 18 and over) who identify as queer (LGBTQIA2S+) or queer allies; it is led by Wild Whatcom staff who also identify as queer. The monthly program schedule shifts between Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons to accommodate a variety of schedules. A typical outing includes community-building and personal reflection activities, nature walks, place-based discussions that include participants’ experiences, the contributions of queer naturalists and scientists, and ways that animals and plants thrive outside of heteronormative expectations.

“Every aspect of Out and About is community-informed and queer-led,” states Kate Kohut, Community and Volunteer Programs Manager. “We do consider this an affinity program, meaning we want LGBTQIA2S+ folks to know that they share this aspect of their identity with program staff and other participants. Being queer, and understanding how that impacts our relationship with nature, is at the center of this program.”

The core purpose of Out and About is to create a safe, inclusive space for queer people to be themselves outdoors, and to build nature-based knowledge and skills in a supportive setting. As Kohut points out, “Outdoor spaces have been historically unwelcoming to queer people, and this program serves to provide an opportunity for folks to connect with nature and build outdoor skills in a queer led, judgment free space.”

Wild Whatcom, whose mission is to foster lifelong connections to nature, was established in 2004 and offers outdoor education and enrichment programs for children and youth, adults, and families. Learn more about Wild Whatcom, its mission, programs, and impact at https://www.wildwhatcom.org/ ; Contact: 360-389-3414 or info@WildWhatcom.org with questions.

        We acknowledge that Whatcom County is located on the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples. They cared for the lands that included what we’d call the Puget Sound region, Vancouver Island and British Columbia since time immemorial. This gives us the great obligation and opportunity to learn how to care for our surrounding areas and all the natural and human resources we require to live. We express our deepest respect and gratitude for our indigenous neighbors, the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Tribe, for their enduring care and protection of our shared lands and waterways.
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