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Conservation and Outings
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by Dan Soeder | 2007

Lead others to love and treasure your favorite places! Become an outings leader

We need some new outings leaders in Maryland, and one of them could be you. Yes, you! Why? Because you joined the Sierra Club, which means you are probably interested in and concerned about the state of our natural environment. Maybe you joined because of a specific issue, like the Intercounty Connector (ICC), or to save a wetland or bit of forest, or maybe you’re here for a more global reason like clean water, or addressing energy and climate change. Whatever your environmental “cause,” outdoor activities are a great way to get conservation messages across, and to build support for your issue.

Take the ICC, for example. We’ve been hearing about all the damage this proposed mega- highway will do to wetlands, watersheds and neighborhoods in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. Yet in the five years I’ve been in the Maryland Chapter, I haven’t seen a single outing proposed to go view these wetlands and watersheds that the Sierra Club is trying to save. Where are these places? What are their stories? Somebody must know. Maybe some ICC-related outings were run early on, before my time, but repeat visits are needed to keep the story alive and to introduce the issue to new people. We ought to get out there and see it. People have to care about something before they will protect it.

I was running a survey last spring in some of our neighboring chapters to gather data on the size and strength of their outings programs. A woman in one of the southern Virginia groups told me that they are all elders down there, and are far too busy dealing with conservation issues to be out “goofing off in the woods,” as she put it. Sadly, this attitude is not uncommon. It is a far cry from the old days when John Muir led outings for the express purpose of showing people the forests he was asking them to conserve. At a national level, the Club recognizes the need to address this issue of perceived incompatibility between conservation and outings, although I’m not sure they know what to do about it.

On the Outdoor Activities Governance Committee, we are trying to increase the diversity of outings participants, especially younger people and Hispanics, two groups that are under-represented on Sierra Club trips. (There are many other groups we could also pursue, but for once we decided not to try to take on too much.) We also want to align outings more closely with the conservation goals of the Club. Many of the most fiercely-fought conservation issues are local, like the ICC. Since a lot of the folks championing the issue are young Sierrans who are not regular outings participants, it occurred to me that we might accomplish both goals through some local, conservation outings.

These things are not hard to plan—the issue is usually right there in front of you. I led a canoe/kayak trip a couple of years ago at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge to show people the state of the Refuge, and the threats from proposed development near Cambridge. We had a good turnout and a great paddle, except for the thunderstorms that came up at the end. Look at some of the conservation outings designated on the winter calendar—a lot of these are just regular old hikes, but with a conservation component added. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Think about your favorite conservation issue, and how an outing might be structured to explain and show that issue to interested participants. Then contact me and let’s get it moving.

So maybe you’re not all that “outdoorsy.” You don’t know how to build a campfire and you’re afraid to sleep in the woods. Or perhaps you don’t get around all that well anymore. There are many others like you. But at least a few of them would probably enjoy a chance to go for a short nature walk to see a threatened wetland, or maybe stroll along a pond and discuss how to save it. Outings don’t always have to be 16 mile day-hikes with 4,000 feet of elevation change (although some people find these appealing – see the entry for March 8). The point is that you don’t need to be Grizzly Adams to lead outings. Pick something that’s within your stamina range, and within your outdoor skills level. Get the Red Cross basic first aid and take the OLT101 class, either on-line or one of the live sessions I offer now and then. And then lead an outing. You can do it.

See you outside.   

 

Dan Soeder, MD Outings Chair, can be reached at  Dan.Soeder at sierraclub.org

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