Natural Leaders Network Builds Momentum in Movement to Increase Diversity in the Outdoors

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Congressional Briefing convened by the Children & Nature Network's Natural Leaders highlights the role of Latino Youth in the Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Movements during Great Outdoors America Week.

The Natural Leaders Network, an initiative of the Children & Nature Network, is building momentum around the need for increased diversity in the outdoors. Partnering with the Office of Senator Patty Murray (WA), who has consistently demonstrated active leadership in conservation, outdoor recreation and Latino leadership issues, the Natural Leaders Network convened a panel of experts to discuss this issue with a standing-room only crowd in a hearing room within the Senate Office Building on June 24th. This event was part of Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week), which is the preeminent event celebrating our collective connection to the great outdoors while advocating for its future.

“I’m proud to partner with the Natural Leaders Network and continue this important conversation about expanding the role of Latino youth in outdoor recreation and conservation. Connecting more children and families to outdoor activities is not only critical to their health and wellness, but also to our long-term conservation efforts,” said Senator Patty Murray.

The Briefing, entitled “Building the Next Generation of Diverse Nature-Smart Leaders,” featured panelists from The REI Foundation, The Hispanic Access Foundation, The Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies, and The Wilderness Society. Leaders discussed strategic ways to promote outdoor recreation and conservation among Latino youth, with a robust question and answer portion that kept participants in their seats well past the 1:30pm scheduled finish.

The briefing was designed to address existing challenges and opportunities facing the conservation community while directing attention to the lack of diversity of park users and outdoor enthusiasts. Many themes emerged, but the idea of involving entire families and the word “trust” came up repeatedly.

“Latinos are passionate about the outdoors, which play a special role — from recreation to jobs to the effect it has on their health — in the lives of many youth and their families,” said Maite Arce, President and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation. “The Latino community is just beginning to flex its muscle on protecting the environment for future generations. Actively engaging Latino millennials and their families in conservation will accelerate the impact they will make in these efforts.”

The importance of trust was underscored by comments from New Mexico State Director for The Wilderness Society, Michael B Casaus. “Trust is a critical component when we talk about engaging the Latino community in conservation campaigns,” he said. “We can’t expect the Latino community to come to us. We must meet them on their terms, in their communities and speak to them using language that resonates with them.”

Although many challenges arose during the conversation, the focus turned to the immense opportunity that exists within the Latino community. As the largest and fastest growing demographic group in the country, trends indicate a growing opportunity for Latinos to become more involved in conservation and outdoor recreation issues. A 2012 National Council of La Raza study, “Latinos and the Environment,” indicates that more than nine in 10 Latino voters (94 percent) say outdoor activities such as fishing, picnics, camping, and visiting national parks and monuments are important to them and their families.

“REI recognizes the importance in connecting diverse groups to wild natural places and helping the outdoor industry better reflect the diversity of our nation,” said Marc Berejka, president of The REI Foundation. “We are proud to support the Natural Leaders Network and its collaborative program to empower the next generation of outdoor leaders.”

Beyond the benefits to conservation and outdoor recreation, this discussion also stressed the positive impact that exposure to the outdoors can have on a person’s health and well-being. Panelist Dr. Brian Smedely, Vice President and Director of the Health Policy Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (HPI), has led an effort to expand PLACE MATTERS, a multi-million dollar initiative of the Joint Center, aimed at building the capacity of local leaders to identify and address social determinants of health in their communities. “We have an increasing problem in the U.S. with obesity. We've added to that by stigmatizing obesity and creating shame,” he said.

Children & Nature Network Board Member Ray Rivera served as moderator for the panel, keeping panelists engaged while contributing a wealth of experience and historical knowledge of the issue from his past working for Department of the Interior under Secretary Salazar, as well as having over thirteen years of leadership experience in political campaign management, policy advocacy, coalition building, and grassroots organizing. The event also highlighted the leadership of Honorable Ben Ray Luján, United States Representative for New Mexico.

“Engaging the Latino community is key to closing the diversity gap in the conservation and outdoor recreation fields,” said Juan Martinez, Director of the Natural Leaders Network. “Creating culturally-relevant programs and initiatives that equip youth with valuable skills is imperative to ensuring a vibrant future of ‘nature-smart’ leaders,” he said. One such program, the Natural Leaders Legacy Camp, will kick-off later this month at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s National Conservation Training Center, where participants will receive training to enhance skills that will hopefully inspire future employment in the outdoor recreation and conservation sectors. For more information, please visit and continue to follow the conversation at #NaturalLeaders.

About The Children & Nature Network: Since its founding in 2006, the Children & Nature Network has been advocating for children, their families and communities to enhance their health and well-being through direct experiences in nature. C&NN’s vision is a world in which all children play, learn and grow with nature in their everyday lives. The Children & Nature Network is fueling the movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership. C&NN provides a wide range of research and user-friendly tools, including those to enhance positive family bonding and access to fun, friendly nature-based activities. For more information, visit

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Juan Martinez
since: 03/2009
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