Stacy Bare is a veteran, outdoor enthusiast, a local leader, and the Director of the Sierra Club Mission Outdoors. After experiencing the power of the outdoors as a veteran, Stacy now shares that same experience with others, whether they be veterans or children.
Stacy took some time to share how anyone can get outside, especially when urban life makes National Parks seem distant. Stacy challenges stereotypical views of what it means to be someone who enjoys the outdoors, and reminds us all that getting outside can be as simple as taking a walk through the park.
Rebekah: How do you initially get people involved in the outdoors if that’s not a part of their life?
Stacy: I think to get people outdoors you have to have to have someone they trust get them outdoors. You have to have a way that challenges people to get outside their comfort zone, but not too far. If you’re working with a group of kids, the first thing you want to do with them is probably not ask them to go climb Mt. Hood. Just meet people where they’re at. Maybe it’s playing tag or kickball in a park. Something that’s easy for them, where they can run around and have fun. The main things is the introducer must be someone the person and the community can trust. The challenge for anyone trying to get more people outdoors is that their not putting up a hierarchy of getting people outdoors. Someone that’s not saying their better by climbing a mountain. A thing to realize is a lot of people are getting outdoors, but a lot of times, we make assumptions that certain social groups or ethnic groups aren’t getting outdoors, when actually they are. We need to continue to offer new opportunities supporting their way they want to get outside. It also challenges those who are getting outside to try new ways to get outdoors. It’s a lot of give and take.
Rebekah: What is a way that parents can develop a love for the outdoors in their children?
Stacy: I think that parents can help their kids a lot, but I also think that often times kids have more of an opportunity to get outdoors than their parents. Kids have more programs like Outdoor Nation and Sierra Club. A lot of times parents don’t have the time or background to get outdoors. Kids have a lot of fun, going to the park, having lunch, playing in the backyard. Maybe they come home from school with a plant. With parents, people talk a lot about getting their kids outside. Video games are often seen as the enemy. It doesn’t have to be that way. Ithink parents can make sure the outdoors is a safe place their kids can go. Parents can be the ones to say, let’s have dinner outside, or walk around the neighborhood. Maybe going to the park, or just a walk around the block to get outdoors.
We in the outdoors need to make sure people realize how inexpensive it can be to get outdoors. Breaking down that hierarchy, really all you need is a decent pair of shoes, maybe it’s just flip flops, and a shirt and shorts you don’t mind getting dirty. I think parents just need to challenge kids to get outside, be inquisitive. Maybe it’s just reading a John Muir book. Or even helping their kids understand public transportation so that they know how to get to a park where they are safe. It’s prioritizing that time time together as family, especially when you have parents that are busy. Even that little commitment, taking a walk around the block, taking a look at a nature book, or watching a sunset together.
Rebekah: What do you suggest for those who live in cities and don’t have immediate access to the outdoors?
Stacy: I think it’s breaking down that hierarchy. Even if you live in the ‘concrete jungle’, It’s just finding where nature finds it’s way in. It might be backyard gardening, where you’re working with a little green space. One of the models we’re working with in the Sierra Club is having community organizers, to ensure that there are safe walking paths and transportation. There are challenges, but there are options when you live in a city. Even if it’s just walking somewhere. Whenever the weather’s nice, just taking games to a park. Sometimes it’s just taking a walk, playing games, laughing. Maybe even starting inside, planting inside. If someone wants to go climb Mt. Rainier, that’s awesome and there are programs for that, but there are also other options.
I used to work in Chicago, and parents didn’t feel safe letting their kids walk to and from school. That’s a challenge, and that means we need to create safer streets, and create green space near people’s homes. Sometimes there are safety issues, and if that’s the case, start with the chilly pepper in the window, then later you can move outside. It’s really focusing on sharing different experiences of nature. Or even watching things that show people doing crazy things in nature. It’s something that nature people need to work on when we create media, that shows representation of people outside the typical outdoor advertisement. If there’s a kid from Chicago thats’s watching T.V., who’s not white, and only sees white kids on T.V. getting outside, is that kid going to say they can see themselves getting outside? Some will, but as an outdoor specialist we’re missing out on a huge part of America. To get people outside, it takes every aspect of society. There’s a huge sector of society where we need strong beautiful streets. I think outdoor recreation can be a huge solution to getting rid of the bitter violence that we see. It doesn’t matter your race, money you make; everybody can get outdoors. It can really enrich the whole community. It can start where you’re at.
Rebekah: Can you explain a little more on the mission of community leaders?
Stacy: I haven’t lived in Chicago since 2008, but at that time there was huge violence, and the street just weren’t safe. People had to drive their kids home, and then they stayed inside. If you look internationally, Columbia is great example of how they created outdoor places where people wanted to go and the violence dropped. We know that that can happen and we’ve seen those things work well. It’s just a matter of doing it and having the will power to do it. That’s where the community leaders come in.
Rebekah: Is it normal for someone to have a change in their outlook on life after experiencing the outdoors? Why do you think nature has such a huge impact on people?
Stacy: I do think that the outdoor’s is really transformative. That’s not always the case, but for me it has been. As a veteran, coming home from Iraq, it was the outdoors that allowed me to get outside my head, and focus so I could grow. Let me take that back, I should be really bold that I think everyone can benefit from the outdoors. It puts things in perspective, you build trust with others, you’re allowed to laugh, smile, let your mind wander, spend some time staring at a tree, think about life, and how things work. Sometimes those things happened unintentionally, Parents act like kids, kids act like kids. The more time I spend outdoors, the more time I want to spend outdoors. It can be really easy to spend all the time outdoors, but you need to be able to balance. There’s no reason not everyone can spend time outside. It’s definitely transformative, weather it’s a paraplegic skiing, who had never skied before, or someone who’s healthy, and has money, but is now finding strength and resilience outside. I’ve seen that.
Even if you look at a lot of the amazing people we looked at history, a lot of them were inspired by the outdoors, or spent time walking, or picnicking, allowing their mind to room. Christian, Jewish, and Muslim traditions all have really strong traditions with the outdoors. Their prophets spent time outdoors. Buddhist and Hindus have that too, even Abraham Lincoln was a circuit rider. In that time a circuit rider would spend their time outside, and you would have time to reflect and think. Not always intentionally, but it’s a natural part of life. Today, it’s not a normal part of life so we make it a bigger challenge than it has to be.
Rebekah: As we continue to see less people experience the outdoors, how do you see that affecting our society?
Stacy: The biggest thing that spending time outdoors does is it gives people empathy. When we’re not spending time outside we’re not empathetic, we’re not meeting other people, creatures, seeing death and decay that happens, and rebirth in spring. We’re not coming together and laughing. We’re increasingly separated by the media, listening to what we choose to listen to through media outlets geared for people like you. On a hike you run into someone very different and you make a connection because you both love hiking. You know who that person is when you see them in the community, and you can relate to them.We spend a lot of time breathing recycled air, in traffic. We think we don’t want to go outside because there’s so much recycled air. We spend so much time running. Kids spend time outdoors playing sports, which is great but sports are so structured.
Washington Carver worked with a peanut. Where’d he get the peanut? The outdoors. The more we become connected through planes, and modern transportation and media, the more I think we’re actually becoming more disconnected because we don’t spend time outdoors. Sometimes people say they’ll work hard for four days, and take three days off to get outside. That’s fine, but it’s about being proactive daily.
Rebekah: What are practical ways you think we, as a people can make the outdoors more accessible for everyone?
Stacy: I think again we can break down the barriers and making sure we invite others . We don’t judge they’re experience-‘I can’t believe you’ve never seen the beach,’ to some kid from L.A. That kid’s going to wonder if they’ve done something wrong. No, they haven’t done anything wrong, it’s just they have a different experience. We need tochange our language. It’s not ‘I’m going to take the kids outside’; you take a picnic, not a person. You bring someone along with you. It takes all aspects of society, the industry has to do a better job of depicting all types of people getting outdoors, because the outdoors is for everybody. Just invite people outdoors and give people the option to do what they want outdoors.