Shared-Language Hikes Helped Break Down Barriers to the Outdoors This Summer
Last month, ECOSS wrapped up its summer season of shared-language hiking trips to Little Si — aiming to expand outdoor access to underserved communities — using the Trailhead Direct program. We connected with some of the ECOSS staff and trip leaders to talk about their experiences hiking with their communities.
Last month, ECOSS — a WTA partner — wrapped up a summer season of shared-language hiking trips to Little Si — aiming to expand outdoor access to underserved communities — using the Trailhead Direct program run by King County Metro and King County Parks.
Through their in-language hikes, ECOSS provided the community with an opportunity to engage with Seattle’s public transit system and reach a popular hiking trail. Hikes were offered in six different languages, and the shared language for participants helped greatly with coordinating logistics and communication.
The program trip leaders each received training from WTA’s Outdoor Leadership Training (OLT) program to teach them about different aspects of safe outdoor recreation and ways to be strong trail leaders to further support their community members on the trail.
Meagan Dwyer, communications manager for ECOSS, talked with some of this year’s ECOSS trip leaders — Kevin Duong, Cindy Anh Thu Nguyen, Oni Curitol and Ernest Mak — to hear about their experiences hiking with their communities.
A SUMMER OF HIKING TOGETHER
Kevin led two Vietnamese-speaking hikes this summer that included many first-time hikers, including multiple small children. At the top of Little Si, the group bonded over good company, conversations about community, bánh mì and grapes.
Cindy’s trip consisted of 13 hikers with an age range of 3 to 50, many of whom were recent immigrants who appreciated the language support. Some members expressed that they had wanted to hike before but had been seeking a Vietnamese group to hike with.
Oni had a group of ten, the youngest being 13 years old. The group talked about the lack of Spanish-speaking representation on hikes and how happy they were to see it on their hike. Several hikers asked for more planned hikes in the future.
Ernest’s Mandarin- and Cantonese-speaking group had about seven senior folks, none of whom had hiked before. They weren’t originally planning to go to the top at the trailhead due to the difficulty level, but the group made it to the summit and got to enjoy lunch with a view.
Additionally, the program led two other hikes for Oromo- and Hindi-speaking communities.
Over 66 community members from the Seattle area speaking seven different languages ranging in age from 4 to over 50 joined ECOSS on these hikes. For many of them, this was their first experience hiking, exploring and learning how to express themselves in nature.
Because many of the participants were new to hiking, it was important for the trip leaders to be extra aware of their groups' needs and comfort levels on the trail — they found the OLT training with WTA useful for that.
“I used some of the training, the techniques, that we did in the WTA workshop like timekeeping, water breaks, and using some little activities to let people rest in between the hiking duration (to keep) it interesting,” said Ernest.
A SENSE OF BELONGING
The trip leaders emphasized that programs that can bond people together through common languages and experiences — like these hiking trips — are a big deal for the communities they serve.
“It’s important for the Vietnamese community to hear and see people speaking in their language, going outdoors and on trails where they commonly don't see much diversity,” said Cindy. “There was also a lot of teaching each other what all these different terms — Trailhead Direct, light rail, trail, mountain peak — mean and how to pronounce them. Even just saying ‘Little Si’ out loud helped one person feel more comfortable knowing they weren’t saying it wrong.”
Some barriers to the outdoors are not clearly visible. Recreating outdoors can seem unsafe and unwelcoming, especially to those in underrepresented communities new to the activity. The ECOSS program provided resources and community to help folks feel at ease and build their confidence outside.
“We want our community to be able to navigate and eventually be able to guide hiking trips and having language support makes it less scary for them to go hiking their first time,” Kevin said. “Using public transit where safety is a concern, being able to go with a group makes them feel safer and having somebody to lead and guide just makes the community member feel confident going out to nature.”
A common theme across the reflections of all four trip leaders was an immediate kinship felt by those hiking with a group of folks who spoke the same non-English language. And for many, it was a reminder that the outdoors welcomes them.
“Having in-language activities and being in (your) community creates a sense of belonging,” said Oni. “Having a language all together on a hike is really powerful because then it's also kind of a reminder that nature doesn’t belong to any group or any language itself and it is something that is just a shared space that we all get the chance to enjoy.”
BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS
The Trailhead Direct service granted many participants — who otherwise may not feasibly be able to — the opportunity to visit Little Si. Providing alternative forms of transportation beyond a personal vehicle opens up outdoor recreation to many underserved communities that lack nearby green spaces and access to trails.
Having programs like this can also not only help potential hikers — who may be nervous about the outdoors — more comfortable with the idea of hiking, but even get them eager to get outside.
"The participants were so excited about this trip and the bus service," Oni said. "They were asking, even before the hike, at the bus stop, if we are taking volunteers to lead these trips. Also, asking at ECOSS if we offer any restoration or stewardship volunteer work."
On a practical level, having in-language programs like these Little Si hikes helps participants receive information more easily and feel more comfortable speaking up if they need help, reducing yet another obstacle to the outdoors.
Lack of gear can also be a barrier to entry to the outdoors, and WTA aims to help lower that barrier. Our OLT program includes two gear lending libraries that provide educators and organizations with outdoor gear for their adventures, like boots and backpacking gear.
“The individuals were interested in learning more about where to rent gear and what the process is,” said Ernest. “I shared that information and they were excited. They’re looking forward to doing more of this but with the gear next time.”
And it seems very likely there will be a next time — the relationships formed during these hikes have grown beyond the initial ECOSS hikes. Many participants planned to stay in touch and go hiking together in the future.
“After the hike, a lot of the participants really wanted to continue doing activities like this,” said Kevin. “A lot of the people actually like carpooling together to go hiking so it's like a community gathering so that they can continue enjoying nature besides through this program.”
WTA looks forward to supporting future efforts to make the outdoors a more welcoming space for all. We are committed to creating and maintaining Trails for Everyone, both through our trail work programs and by fostering a safe and inclusive hiking community by partnering with organizations like ECOSS.
“By the end of the trip, a lot of us still stay active within the group chat and express interest in hiking together again and continue to invite each other to event activities,” said Cindy. “It really became a social activity and community for us.”