A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky environmental groups turn focus to inclusion, diversity in state’s outdoor spaces

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

Environmental advocates and outdoor enthusiasts across the state are focusing on inclusion and diversity in hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.

Despite wanting to experience nature, many people of color may not have the opportunity to explore Kentucky’s numerous trails, lakes and state parks.

(Photo courtesy of The Explore Kentucky Initiatve)

Gerry Seavo James, founder of the Explore Kentucky Initiative, said until the mid-1960s, Black Kentuckians were banned from entering most state parks.

“Trails, all kinds of stuff, that was segregated,” James explained. “And so, you have whole generations that didn’t have the opportunity of that family legacy of going to these parks and trails.”

He said communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to suffer from health disparities and are the least likely to have access to open spaces where they can improve their health and wellness.

Recent U.S. census-based data shows between 88 and 95% of all visitors to public lands are white.

Joey Shadowen, chair of the Sierra Club’s Kentucky Chapter, said the organization’s annual gathering on Nov. 14 aims to examine how racial inequality impacts access to outdoor spaces and action on environmental issues.

Speakers include writer Carolyn Finney and State Representative Charles Booker. The event is free and open to the public.

“And this year, of course, it’s different with the pandemic that’s happening, Shadowen added. “And we’re having to do it virtually this year. Normally, we would be meeting at a state park. We’ve got six groups scattered out across the state.”

James said he hopes as voters head to the polls in the coming weeks, they consider the importance of ensuring future generations can breathe clean air and drink clean water.

“It’s important for people to expand what they vote for, the issues they vote for,” James contended. “Environmental justice and climate change are some of the issues that people need to put on their palette and think about.”

He said the climate-voter movement is gaining momentum. One 2019 poll by the Environmental Voter Project found 14% of voters listed climate or the environment as their top priority. That’s up from 2% in 2016.

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