It will take a village to save public lands

The author, far right, at El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico. 

Courtesy Anastasia Greene

I remember the first time I discovered that going into the woods to walk around and sleep was a thing.

I was about nine years old and my mom and I moved to Virginia from Philadelphia earlier that year. It was like a foreign world to me. I traded in my bustling city streets for open spaces and loud sounding bugs I couldn’t identify.

Later that year, my mom would do something that drastically changed the course of my life – enroll me in Girl Scouts of America. It was through that group of young women that I discovered service to others, nature and myself. My first camping and hiking trip was with Girl Scouts. I had never even considered going into the woods until that trip. I was wholly unfamiliar with the concept. In Philadelphia, I was surrounded by el-trains (short for the trains that ran on elevated platforms around the city) and cement pavements that crisscrossed the busy streets packed with cars and buses. I can’t even truly recall seeing trees in abundance until I moved to Virginia.

Oh, but once I discovered nature and our public lands I was hooked.

Anastasia Greene, left, at Pikes Peak, Colorado.

It was this one decision that truly put me on the trajectory I’m on today. As a member of The Wilderness Society’s communication team, I took my passion for our natural world and turned that into a career. I feel very lucky that I get to do that every day.

At The Wilderness Society, our mission is to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. To do that, it will take more people like me, people who represent a growing part of our American make-up. As a young, black woman in the conservation community, I represent a minority – but as a part of our  country’s racial make-up, black and brown people are quickly becoming a majority. To ensure our mission is achieved, it is our responsibility to empower the next generation of public lands conservation leaders. But we can’t inspire that next generation if we don’t reach out to all of its members, not just certain demographic groups.

In the beginning of  our nation’s conservation movement, the people at the table were usually white men. Looking to the future we must change that. We need to empower the next generation of conservation leaders to carry the torch over the finish-line. Those leaders must be from different backgrounds to more accurately reflect the country America is.

The first step is connecting youth to the outdoors.Organizations like City Kids Wilderness Project in Washington, D.C. are doing that work on a local level. City Kids mission is to enrich the lives of DC youth from underserved communities by teaching kids how to be prepared for life beyond a traditional classroom – in nature. And through authentic engagement and connections like these, we are empowering the conservation leaders of tomorrow.

The author in Yosemite. Image courtesy Anastasia Greene.

I don’t know that I would be the outdoor lover I am today if it wasn’t for my experiences in Girl Scouts. People don’t know what they don’t know. We can’t truly say one type of person is an outdoor lover. It is up to us to ensure that everyone has equal access to make that choice for themselves. Public lands are America’s common ground – we can all find ourselves in the outdoors, whether it be at an iconic national park or simply at an open space near the city.

And through that salvation, the next generation will stand tall to defend our lands. To make them apart of the solution to climate change, to ensure that we all continue to have access to some of the most spectacular scenic and cultural landscapes.

People always say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I think it will take the entirety of our American village to save public lands.