By building trust and relationships through shared language and cultural understanding, ECOSS empowers communities of color as environmental stewards, helps local businesses become more financially and environmentally sustainable, and advances the equity of environmental solutions.
“And I could see in their eyes, they were just taken aback. The kids were like: ‘What? In America, you can walk around in nature?’”
Multicultural Outreach Coordinator, Jabes Otieno, spoke to Audubon Magazine about his experience bringing members of African immigrant communities to nearby hiking trails. For many, this was a new and positive experience!
This and other adventures were part of ECOSS’ multicultural outreach around the Trailhead Direct bus service. Working with The Wilderness Society, King County Parks and other partners, ECOSS is helping to lower the barrier to green spaces and the outdoors.
Being outdoors and around green spaces has been repeatedly shown to be good for one’s health. But not everyone has equal access to outdoor recreation opportunities. Trailhead Direct – a bus service provided by King County – lowers one of the greatest barriers to outdoor recreation: transportation.
In 2018, ECOSS partnered with King County Parks and The Wilderness Society to amplify the impact of Trailhead Direct through outreach to multicultural communities. By organizing and leading hiking trips with diverse communities, ECOSS created culturally-centered opportunities for community members to enjoy the outdoors and opened an avenue for immigrants, refugees and other people of color to give direct feedback on the bus service. This feedback contributed greatly to the opening of a Tukwila/Renton to Cougar Mountain route to meet the needs of South Seattle residents.
For the 2019 season, ECOSS reached 621 community members of diverse communities to raise awareness of Trailhead Direct. From that outreach, 145 people participated in ECOSS-led hikes! Youth, adults and seniors alike enjoyed the mountains, from strolls through Cougar Mountain to summiting the locally-famous Mailbox Peak.
Despite King County’s increased effort to advertise Trailhead Direct on common public transit options, most community hikers had never heard of the service. 76% of community hikers did not know about Trailhead Direct before ECOSS’ outreach. Many that did know were through previous ECOSS outreach. This was also reflected in communities’ feedback to King County.
“Let more people know about the services because I didn’t know we have this service until I went on this trip.” – Vietnamese community hiker
“Get information to minority communities.” – East African community hiker
This represents yet untapped potential for public transit to connect people and nature. Many community hikers with ECOSS were not just using Trailhead Direct for the first time, but also hiking for the first time. Community members cited barriers to participation such as knowledge of trails and knowledge of transportation options (especially for those without cars). But after overcoming those barriers, the benefits are vast, not just to health, but also to perspective:
“I participated for the first time in a hiking activity organized by Trailhead Direct and ECOSS last summer. As a Latino immigrant man, I never had anyone to introduce me or invite me to explore this wonderful physical, social and emotional activity. Meeting new people in such a healthy outdoor environment and being able to reach extraordinary views and be in direct contact with the abundant nature of PNW was profound to me. I cannot wait to continue this activity with friends and other members of my community. Thank you so much to the organizers, sponsors and to the public transportation system for letting me have this positive experience free of cost.” – J. Fernando Luna, Latinx community hiker
Lack of knowledge should not be misinterpreted as lack of interest. When presented in a culturally-relevant manner and with thoughtful inclusion, immigrants, refugees and other people of color are eager to engage in nature. As Trailhead Direct evolves out of its pilot phase, ECOSS is ensuring community feedback on the diverse needs in outdoor recreation reaches government so they can adjust accordingly. This type of private-public partnerships is promoting the vision of outdoors access and sustainable living for all.
Thank you to The Wilderness Society and King County Parks for funding multicultural community engagement. Thank you Entre Hermanos and Bhutanese Community Resource Center for working with ECOSS to recruit hikers. Thank you REI, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and Washington Trails Association for your support.
Are you familiar with the Pacific Northwest’s variety of edible wild plants? The rainy climate that gives Seattle its gloomy reputation also feeds local mushrooms, ferns and other forage food. And this last autumn, ECOSS and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust (MTS) opened up that world for one Bhutanese community.
For Bhutanese refugees living in the greater Seattle area, there are several similarities between the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the jungles of Bhutan. This includes some shared wild plants such as the fiddlehead fern. But whereas Bhutan has few regulations on outdoors recreation, federal, state and county regulations restrict how people in the Pacific Northwest can use public lands and harvest plants.
Seeing the knowledge gap that prevented Bhutanese refugees from connecting with nature in the same way they would have in their native country, ECOSS worked with the community and with MTS to design an immersive workshop on public lands regulations and local foraging.
The workshop included a guided walk/hike led by MTS and the US Forest Service, an introduction to the rules and regulations regarding public lands and a discussion of the different types of public lands. As a demonstration of the education, the workshop led into a conversation about foraging and local flora. After the formal workshop, the dozen Bhutanese community members were free to enjoy the surroundings and camp overnight.
“I am really thankful to this workshop. Foraging specially fiddlehead fern, watercress and mushroom was very common in our community back in Bhutan and in the refugee camp, but because of limited English and cultural differences, many of our community folks are not able to do what they loved doing.” — Bhutanese community member, workshop attendee
ECOSS’ New Arrivals program collaborates with communities of color to create access to environmental education and experiences that are directed by community needs. This community-centric approach ensures both program success and community benefit, like in this public lands workshop.
Thank you Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for partnering with us, Washington Trails Association for providing gear, US Forest Service for providing public lands education and Bhutanese Community Resource Center for bringing community members!
Find yourself wanting to escape the city on weekends? Do you enjoy hiking? King County’s Trailhead Direct bus service offers a solution for accessing trails near the Greater Seattle Area and is in its third season of operation.
ECOSS partnered with King County Parks and The Wilderness Society last summer to conduct outreach on Trailhead Direct within communities of color. By leading trips with the Khmer, Bhutanese, Latinx and Korean communities, ECOSS helped build the case to expand Trailhead Direct services, which added stops in Tukwila and Renton this season.
Continuing the momentum, ECOSS is working with Chinese, Vietnamese, Latinx, Bhutanese and East African communities to access Trailhead Direct and nearby trailheads this summer.
Members of Hong Kong, Chinese and other Cantonese-speaking communities recently completed their trip to Issaquah Alps! Check out some photos from the trip:
Most of the Cantonese-speaking participants had not heard of Trailhead Direct before the ECOSS trip, despite being avid hikers. The cloudy morning skies gave way to lush greens as the group embarked up Margaret’s Way Trail. The hikers appreciated the fresh air and ample trees. They even encountered a garter snake on the way up.
The trip was also an opportunity for diverse feedback. Finding the initial bus stop was a challenge with minimal Trailhead Direct signage at the Eastgate Park and Ride station. Combined with a premature bus departure, the group was forced to catch the following bus… which was practically full before the group of 17 could board.
Undaunted, the group ultimately made their way to the top of the Margaret’s Way Trail. Many commented that they would recommend Trailhead Direct to others despite the challenges they faced.
By now, many King County residents have heard about Trailhead Direct, especially those who regularly take public transit. But the banners, brochures and advertisements don’t naturally reach all residents. Non-English speakers and those who live farther away from transit corridors are much less likely to be exposed to Trailhead Direct.
Access to green spaces promotes individual health and community connections. ECOSS is dedicated to ensuring outdoors access extends to communities of color as well.
Written by Uroosa Fatima, Multicultural Outreach Manager
Living in Seattle, I find it hard not to think about water. Whether it’s twinkling at me from across the bridge or attacking me from the sky, water finds a way to get noticed every day. Surrounded by all these glamorous bodies, I sometimes overlook the city’s best water feature: tap water. A fresh, cool stream that flows reliably whenever we need it.
But why does the tap water here taste so good? The greater Seattle area gets its water supply from two systems, the South Fork Tolt River watershed and the much bigger Cedar River Municipal Watershed. Both of these regions are heavily protected areas and allow minimal access to humans. The watersheds are kept as pristine as possible, so the water requires minimal treatment. Additionally, Seattle is unique among urban American cities for not repeatedly recycling its tap water, which elsewhere leads to flat-tasting water.
Recently, I got the chance to go see the Cedar River Municipal Watershed on a hike organized by ECOSS in partnership with Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). The aim of this hike was to introduce some of Seattle’s newer communities to the watershed that feeds their drinking supply. The diverse group included members from the Vietnamese, Chinese, East African and Pakistani communities.
After meeting with the park rangers at Cedar River Educational Center and learning the rules of conduct, the hikers were driven up to the restricted municipal watershed. The watershed is divided into two basins, the larger Chester Morse Lake and the smaller Masonry Pool, which was created as a result of the Masonry Dam. Following the guides the group walked along parts of the dam and saw how the structure is used to generate electricity and regulate water flow.
During their trip, hikers learned more about the function, history and ecology of the watershed from the rangers guiding the excursion. 1.4 million people in the region, and countless iconic species like the Northern spotted owl, Chinook salmon and Grizzly bear depend on this basin for a constant and pristine supply of water. This led to lively discussions among the group and the guides facilitated by multilingual ECOSS coordinators on topics like long term regional season patterns, drought conditions, and the historic importance of the watershed to native tribes.
At the end of the hike, the hungry group returned to the Educational Center for some Banh Mi sandwiches and rest. Many felt that the experience gave them a deeper understanding of where their drinking water comes from and what it takes to keep it clean.
Thank you Seattle Public Utilities for working with ECOSS to make this insightful trip possible!
Last summer, Allan and other ECOSS staff used Trailhead Direct to increase outdoors access within immigrant and refugee communities. Thanks to the feedback collected from these trips, the service expanded to starting points in Tukwila and Renton. Read about Allan’s experiences and other transit to trails services around the country in the WIRED article:
ECOSS will again be leading trips with multicultural communities via Trailhead Direct. Look out for more stories!
Expanding accessibility and inclusiveness of outdoors opportunities is a key pillar of ECOSS’ New Arrivals program. The program works from within immigrant and refugee communities to understand their interests and concerns, provide in-language education and lead outdoors experiences that are culturally relevant.
Thank you King County Parks, The Wilderness Society and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for the opportunity to conduct multicultural outreach on Trailhead Direct!
Featured photo by Eli Brownell.
Over 70 Nepali-speaking community members joined ECOSS on snowshoeing trips this year!
Snowshoeing is an iconic winter-time activity in the Pacific Northwest. But immigrants, refugees and other new arrivals to the region may be unaware of the recreation opportunity. Likely fewer still have the requisite equipment and knowledge to undertake this activity. ECOSS’ New Arrivals program helps communities overcome these barriers.
“It was my first time and I had a blast.” – Bhim Taamang
In partnership with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Washington Trails Association, community leader Allan Kafley organized four snowshoeing trips to Snoqualmie Pass. The trips served over 50 youth, none of whom had been snowshoeing before. Two smaller groups of adults embarked on extended hikes deeper into the wilderness. During each trip, volunteer rangers guided groups through the snow-blanketed landscape while drawing attention to different vegetation. Youth and adults alike reveled in the winter nature wonderland that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.
“As I thumped my feet on the slushy snow for miles, breathing the cold fresh air of Snoqualmie and being surrounded by giant mountains made me feel at home.” – Ambika Kafle
The trips also provided insight into an important cultural difference. In the United States, popular outdoors destinations are in such high demand that the environment would irreversibly degrade without intervention. Regulations protect designated wilderness areas so that the public land can be appreciated by future visitors. For example, regulations prohibit the use of certain motorized and mechanized equipment, including off-road vehicles, bikes and chainsaws. For the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, it also means limiting group sizes to 12 or fewer.
Typically, when Nepali-speaking communities gather, they gather in force. The group-size regulations do not exist in their home wilderness. But on the snowshoeing trips, hikers learned about how regulations are preserving nature. Although it is unfortunate for the community members who could not join, the regulations ensure that they will be able to enjoy the wilderness in the future. Thus, the anticipation builds for the next snowshoeing season.
Thank you Bhutanese Community Resource Center and South Nepali Class for helping recruit community members. And thank you Washington Trails Association and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Services for supporting these trips.
The Port of Seattle honored ECOSS as an Environmental Excellence Awardee!
Video by Port of Seattle with footage and photos contributed by ECOSS and Sam Le.
ECOSS’ programs are as diverse as the communities and businesses it serves. From clean energy to waste management, outdoor recreation to stormwater education, ECOSS provides access to environmental solutions to small businesses and marginalized communities. By working from within the communities that are most-impacted by climate injustices, ECOSS bridges gaps among industry, government and communities in ways that respect people’s cultures and lifestyles.
The Port of Seattle recently honored ECOSS with an Environmental Excellence Award for achievements in environmental equity! ECOSS envisions sustainable businesses and thriving communities supported by equitable environmental solutions. The award symbolizes that ECOSS is on the right track in addressing environmental injustices.
ECOSS joined other environmental leaders, including small businesses recognized for their transition to clean energy and transportation heavyweight Lyft that is greening their rideshare service.
Thank you Port of Seattle for honoring ECOSS with this honor. And thank you SVP for nominating ECOSS for the award.
King County’s public transit to trail service returns with an added route!
Trailhead Direct, a King County Parks and King County Metro collaboration, provides a public transit solution to individuals that want to recreate outdoors, but are barred from doing so. Lowering the transportation barrier promotes access to potential hikers who do not own cars, cannot afford the trip or have restricted mobility for driving.
Last year, ECOSS raised awareness of Trailhead Direct within immigrant and refugee communities, leading 65 community members on hikes throughout Washington State.
Hikers all enjoyed their time outdoors and appreciated the convenience, affordability and environmental benefit of taking the bus over driving several cars. At the same time, communities provided valuable feedback to King County on the accessibility of Trailhead Direct. Community members cited challenges in parking at the bus station or pathfinding along the trails. But the most common feedback was the wish to expand the service throughout the county, especially in South Seattle and South King County.
King County heard the communities’ voices. This year, Trailhead Direct expands to include a route that services Tukwila and Renton! The route heads to Cougar Mountain and transfers to other Trailhead Direct destinations, including Issaquah Alps, Mt. Si and Mailbox Peak.
Go to Trailhead Direct’s website to learn more about the service. ECOSS is excited to work again with communities to connect to nature!
Thank you to King County Parks and The Wilderness Society for supporting this work and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for connecting us with the opportunity to make transportation access more equitable.
Header photo by Eli Brownell, King County Parks.