Get Out! 7 People Doing Surprising Work in the Outdoors

    April 22, 2019
    by Chip Giller

    Last month, Grist announced the Grist 50 for 2019. In this piece, Blue Sky advisor and Grist founder Chip Giller highlights 7 incredible Fixers and their work to connect people and nature.

    If you love the outdoors, you know what it’s like to get home from an excursion you just can’t shut up about. Maybe you’re itching to spread the word about the hike you just went on, or the wildlife photo you managed to grab, or that sweet fishing spot no one knows about (even if you refuse to share the exact location). Whatever it is, you want to shout about it from the mountaintops. Maybe you literally have!

    And for good reason: Spending time outside can spur an appreciation of nature and a lifelong connection to environmental advocacy, making it a pastime with the potential to bring about some real change. But even if it’s a joy that everyone should experience, it sure isn’t one that everyone gets to. Gear can be expensive and difficult to fit to certain body types. Identity and experience can lead some to feel unsafe or unwelcome in the wild. And most city bus systems just won’t take you to the trailhead, no matter how politely you ask.

    Thankfully, there are people working to get more people access to the outdoors — and to bring the benefits of outside spaces into the places we live in the form of community parks, urban farms, and environmental education in classrooms.

    Grist, which I founded nearly 20 years ago, is an independent, irreverent news outlet working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. Grist’s solutions lab, called Fix, lifts up, and connects, a diverse array of innovators who are leading the way. We call these forward-looking phenoms Fixers. We bring them together to break down silos, develop new partnerships, and accelerate solutions. And through storytelling, live events, and partnerships with culture-shaping institutions, we usher in a whole new narrative of what’s possible.

    As a part of these efforts, every year, we publish a list of 50 people — the Grist 50 — who are working to create a world that works for everyone. I’m excited to share a collection of seven of these remarkable people, who are working to make the outdoors more accessible to all — and to make the most of our time in the outdoors. A couple of them are already doing great work with Blue Sky; all of them are just plain great. Here’s to shouting their messages from the highest mountaintops we can find.

    1. Jenny Bruso — For much of her life, body-negative culture prevented Jenny Bruso from connecting with the outdoors. But when a 2012 hike changed everything for this self-described queer, fat, party girl, she was ready to spread the word. Now, she runs Unlikely Hikers, a popular Instagram page featuring people who are left out of typical outdoor narratives. She also leads group hikes nationwide and shares her own experience — from finding plus-size gear to navigating self-doubt — to make it easier for others to get outside.

    2. José González — Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in the United States, but their access to and representation within conservation movements hasn’t caught up. In fact, José González started Latino Outdoors when he realized the group he wanted to join — one that would bridge the gap between his community and the conservation movement at large — simply didn’t exist. Now, it’s an international movement of volunteers working to get Latino communities outside — and speaking out — in the name of conservation. In addition to advising Latino Outdoors, González now shares his expertise with emerging leaders around the country who are working to bring equity outside.

    3. CJ GouldingCJ Goulding went from describing the outdoors as “simply an area with no roof above your head” to program manager at the Children & Nature Network, and he never took off his Jordans. The shoes are not just for style points: Goulding trains young adults to help their communities engage with nature; a good first step, he says, is showing them that someone who looks (and dresses) like them can thrive in the outdoors.

    4. Rahawa HaileRahawa Haile’s Outside article about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail as a black woman went viral for detailing racial bias in the outdoors. For some, it was a lyrical reflection of their own experiences outside; for others, a challenging critique of outdoor culture. Now, she’s working on a book about it. She hopes her experience will help inspire more people like her to hit the trails: “If people of color don’t care about the outdoors, then the outdoors is doomed.”

    5. Emmanuel Pratt — You don’t have to be a thru-hiker to reap the benefits of time spent outside: In Southside Chicago, Emmanuel Pratt’s nonprofit Sweet Water Foundation has built an urban farm, community center, and aquaponics labs dedicated to teaching local students and families about agriculture. It’s an example of regenerative neighborhood development, which transforms once-blighted areas into community hubs. Sweet Water’s slogan says it best: “There grows the neighborhood.”

    6. Shanelle Smith — What’s one surefire way to get everyone outside? Ask them what outdoor space would work best in their community, and then bring it right to them. As the Ohio state director for the Trust for Public Land, Shanelle Smith’s goal is to make sure everyone can get to a park in 10 minutes of walking or less. The latest development: Under Smith’s leadership, the Trust for Public Land is helping to renovate outdoor spaces at one of the nation’s oldest public housing complexes in Cleveland, Ohio.

    7. Gregg Treinish — Hardcore adventurers go where few dare to tread, and it’s good for way more than just photo-ops. Explorer Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists, which mobilizes trained outdoor enthusiasts to gather scientific data in the field. The organization’s volunteers have contributed to the discovery of more than three dozen new species, and helped gather one of the world’s most diverse microplastic pollution datasets. “I just felt so selfish for being out there and not doing anything that was outwardly beneficial,” Treinish said. “Thousands of people like me love to be outdoors, and wish there was something they could do, too.”



    Chip Giller founded Grist in 1999, intent on using a new type of journalism to engage the next generation on environmental issues. Grist, which publishes online, now has an audience of more than 2.5 million, and has been especially successful reaching readers in their 20s and 30s. Chip has been honored with a Heinz Award and been named a "Hero of the Environment" by TIME magazine. He is now using the Grist platform to launch Fix, a new program to showcase and connect an emerging set of leaders working toward a future that doesn’t suck.


    The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
    All comments are reviewed and moderated.
    Image CAPTCHA
    Enter the characters shown in the image.