Northern Michigan University's outdoor recreation leadership and management program hosted a delegation from Detroit Outdoors, which aims to inspire the city's youth to spend more time outside in local natural spaces by providing camping opportunities in the city. The groups spent Feb. 3 together on campus and at Marquette's Presque Isle Park. NMU students gained career-preparation insight on facilitating more diversity and inclusion in nature. The Detroit Outdoors youth gained a greater appreciation for the U.P.'s pristine environment and abundant recreation opportunities, and learned about NMU and its related program.
“Giving inner-city youth opportunities like this helps to instill a love of the outdoors, and increases their sense of ownership and belonging in natural spaces,” said Jacquie Medina, NMU professor and ORLM program coordinator. “The physical and mental health benefits of spending time outdoors are well-documented, but not everyone has a chance to experience those—whether it's because of location, cost or other reasons. Designing programs to reduce those barriers and address the needs of diverse populations is super-important to increase representation among both participants and employees across the outdoor industry.”
“This gives our internship prep course a chance to dip our toes in program planning with a more diverse group in the hope that they will enjoy it and want to keep experiencing the outdoors,” added NMU student Calihan Bearden. “People don't necessarily always want to start something that costs a lot of money or seems really hard to do so. Even something like the simple hike we're taking today is rewarding. It's about making it accessible and helping people understand this could be 10 minutes away from where they live. It's cool to see young people from the city experience what should be a crazy U.P. winter, but it isn't living up to that today.”
There was a little remaining snow cover on the interior trails at Presque Isle Park. When the students emerged after their hike, they walked over exposed grass and crossed the clear pavement of the park's road toward a rock cropping that offered a majestic view of Lake Superior on a sunny, blue-sky afternoon.
“I'm from a bigger city and didn't really experience anything like this until I came to school at Northern,” said Tas Stoetzner of Grand Rapids. “Now I can go hiking any day after class or camping for a weekend. I just really love the outdoors and want to share that by encouraging other people to get outside and be active.”
Detroit Outdoors had previously traveled to the U.P. to attend Michigan Ice Fest in Munising and engage in introductory ice climbing under the guidance of NMU alumnus Bill Thompson. When Medina learned that the organization was planning a trip to ice climb again on Feb. 4, she collaborated with two of its team members—Garrett Dempsey, whom she had first met at a conference several years ago, and Isaac Piepszowski—to connect their programs the day before the outing.
“The foundation Jacquie and Garrett established made it easy for her and I to work out the details for this visit,” said Piepszowski. “It's super exciting because it benefits both entities. We're trying to get Detroit youth exposed to the Upper Peninsula and Northern students are getting to plan programming and make adjustments for kids who are not from around here. It's great to see our participants share their experiences outdoors, or the barriers to having many experiences outdoors, with the Northern students in ways that might be helpful and inform their careers in outdoor recreation.”
“We really believe that, in nature, there is a place for everybody,” Dempsey added. “But it's easy for young people in an urban environment to maybe not see their connection with the natural world, and that's only confirmed in some ways by the broader media messages and imagery. In Detroit, we try to start from a place of recognizing the abundance that exists right in the city. It's great to see young people have their first overnight camping experience in Rouge Park. They're amazed by all the stars they see, or a deer or a coyote. That young person's relationship with the natural space in their own city can transform their relationship with their home as well, and that's where so much of our identity can come from.”
Detroit Outdoors provides leadership training, gear libraries and related programming so that youth-serving organizations can enjoy meaningful camping experiences. In Rouge Park—Detroit's largest—they pitch their tents in a natural area called Scout Hollow.
The organization contracted with a nonprofit wilderness program to use its converted red school bus equipped with a gear library to transport a dozen high school students and 10 adults to Marquette. They first met with NMU students and faculty at the PEIF from noon-2 p.m. Saturday for introductions, a tour and lunch, then headed to Presque Isle for the hike.
“This has been an amazing experience so far,” said Detroit Outdoors participant Madelane Martinez, who was on her first trip to the Upper Peninsula. “I really think that the U.P. is extremely beautiful. I've never been able to see something quite as nice as this. I had been on a couple trips before: canoeing over the summer, a lot of rock climbing through a club back in Detroit and kayking. Each one of those has really changed my life because I've been more active and I've met many new people from all over the place. It's truly been a blessing.”
“There's a completely different thought process about nature in the Upper Peninsula,” added Emani Williams. “I would not have guessed that because it's the same state, but you can see the difference between the lower and upper. It's really beautiful here, and I'm glad to have experienced this.”
After the groups returned to campus, they engaged in reflective conversations. Detroit Outdoors participants shared their nature-based experiences, motivations, barriers and any questions they had about the outdoor industry. NMU students shared their experiences studying outdoor recreation and pursuing a career in the field.
The Detroit Outdoors group traveled to Munising to participate in ice climbing the next day with NMU grad Thompson, co-owner of Down Wind Sports. He is featured in a previously produced, relevant video titled “Welcoming New Faces to the Outdoors.” Watch it here.
For more information on Detroit Outdoors, visit DetroitOutdoors.org.