Outdoors Access Builds, Connects and Inspires BIPOC Communities: Reflections from Trailhead Direct 2022

ECOSS recently wrapped up its summer season of in-language hiking trips to Little Si, on Snoqualmie Ancestral Lands, through King County Metro and King County Parks’ Trailhead Direct program, with support from Washington Trails Association’s Outdoor Leadership Training. Part of ECOSS’ mission is to connect BIPOC, refugee, and immigrant communities with environmental solutions and stewardship opportunities. BIPOC communities have historically experienced barriers to recreation and outdoors access, such as language, transportation, safety, and general knowledge about hiking. ECOSS’ guided in-language hiking program utilizes KC Metro and KC Parks’ Trailhead Direct bus service to expand access for these communities. This year, over 66 community members of all ages and across 7 languages participated.

For many of the community members, aged 4 years old to 50+, this was their first experience in hiking, exploring, and learning how to express themselves in nature. ECOSS’ program created an opportunity to engage with Seattle’s public transportation system and a popular hiking trail in a way that felt accessible and comfortable, especially with in-language support available to coordinate logistics and answer questions. The trip leaders each received training from WTA to further support their community members on the trail and teach them about different aspects of safe outdoor recreation.

We connected with some of the ECOSS outreach team (Kevin Duong, Cindy Anh Thu Nguyen, Oni Curitol, and Ernest Mak) who led trips this past summer and reflected on their experiences hiking Little Si with their communities.

Photo Credit: Oni Curitol

Q: How did your hikes go this summer?

Kevin:  We did two hikes. It was a lot of the participants’ first time actually hiking, and experiencing a more challenging hike. The youngest participant was about three or four years old and by the time she got on top of Little Si, we were amazed at her accomplishment, with the parent’s help carrying her on the way. There were actually four kids who all made it to the top. When we met together at the summit, we ate bánh mì, and grapes, took a break, and just really talked to each other and had a nice community conversation on top of the mountain, building that relationship there. 

Cindy:  We had a really great turnout—there was actually a pretty long waitlist of people who wanted to go. Thirteen people participated in the Vietnamese group ranging in age from three years old to over fifty years old, so truly an intergenerational group. Most of the adults were also more recent immigrants as well, so the language assistance and being able to speak Vietnamese was something that they really appreciated. The majority of them also live in South Seattle, Renton, or Kent and so it was really a trip for them to come up to Seattle and take the Trailhead Direct bus. They really enjoyed the convenience and learning that there is a service like that available. Many said that they had wanted to try hiking before but had been looking for a Vietnamese group out there that they could connect and go with. I think the idea in my head of “Oh, maybe people in my community don’t go outdoors” or, “they don’t like the idea of it” is changing and I’m seeing that in Seattle. There is a lot of interest in outdoor recreation and people waiting to see if there are programs or opportunities like this to have someone like them help them start the process and navigate it.

Oni: The participants were so excited about this trip and the bus service. They were constantly talking about how there’s not really much representation in the Latinx community when we go outside to hike and mentioned that they seemed like they were often the only people, and it was nice to hear other Spanish speakers, hikers, are out there. At the bus stop before we left for the hike, they were already interested in leading trips like this on their own and getting involved with more Latinx members in outdoor activities, and future restoration or stewardship volunteer work with ECOSS. Going the same day as the other groups was special because we built relationships between the groups with different languages. When we’d stop to rest, we were cheering up all together so that was pretty amazing and beautiful. My group also mentioned that they love to do this in community and they see the connection between spending time in nature and enjoying it, and the link with taking care of the environment and also passing those values on to their families. You care about something that you have a relationship with or you love, so, I think it was a pretty wholesome hike in terms of the vibe between the groups.

Ernest: I had a group of about 6 to 7 seniors, excluding me, their average age was about 60. They had never hiked before but it was great. I used some of the training and techniques that we did in the WTA workshop like timekeeping, water breaks, and little activities to let people rest in between the hiking duration and keep it interesting. We were able to have lunch at the top, but at the beginning of the hike, we weren’t planning on going to the top because we were unsure if it was too challenging. As we kept going, I asked if they felt comfortable walking a couple more minutes and if they felt uncomfortable continuing we would stop at any point and then go back, but we ended up going to the top so we were able to enjoy the view at the top and have lunch there. ECOSS doesn’t have hiking gear, like boots or hiking poles. But the individuals were interested in learning more about where to rent gear and what the process is, so I shared that information with them and they were so excited. They’re looking forward to doing more of this but with the gear next time.  

Photo Credit: Kevin Duong

Q: Why is it important to be able to offer experiences like this, in different languages? 

Cindy: The most important reason for having trips specific to different language groups is that 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. They could feel comfortable going together because they can express themselves in nature in a way that is unique to them. I noticed for the Vietnamese group, we learned that it’s important to take a lot of breaks and that they bring all sorts of foods. When I was starting out hiking, like, I thought I had to bring a certain type of granola bars, or, this is the only type of food or backpack that I can bring, but they brought whatever was comfortable for them. 

I think just learning how they want to engage with the outdoors as a group is a culture that is still forming in a way. “How do Vietnamese people interact with nature,” is something we are learning and wanting to develop. 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, and vice versa, it was an opportunity for me as someone who was born here to hear new words in Vietnamese that I hadn’t learned before. It’s a chance also for youth growing up here to develop their Vietnamese vocabulary and feel confident speaking the language, for older folks to practice their English, and for different generational groups to engage in dialogue with each other and preserve the Vietnamese language. On that same day, Oni and our colleague Allan’s groups were there. It was cool to see all these different groups: Vietnamese speaking, Spanish speaking, Nepali speaking, encounter and interact with each other and encourage each other to keep going on the most difficult sections of the trail, sharing food, snacks, water, and taking pictures of each other.

Kevin: 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. Especially when 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 makes the community members feel confident going out to nature.

Ernest: I think it is important to offer in-language assistance because, for most of the participants that I lead, it was their first time using the bus service. I was able to use in-language assistance to tell them where they can find information for a specific trip, where to locate the bus stop, and trail information like the elevation, and the weather for the day. Being able to tell them this information gave them a feeling of comfort because going to a new place, not knowing anything, can be stressful. If they had any questions or concerns during the trip, they could also ask questions and I’d answer them. But I think most of the in-language effort is put towards the bus service, the logistics, and the organizing of the whole trip.

Oni:  Having in-language activities creates a sense of belonging. I think having a shared language on a hike is really powerful because it’s also a reminder that nature doesn’t belong to any group or any language itself, and that it is something that is a shared space that we all get the chance to enjoy. Seeing other communities at the same time, speaking their own language, sharing, and resting together as a group also brought the essence of a shared community instead of a competitive one. So that was very beautiful. 

I had one participant, she has been here for over 10 years and doesn’t speak English very well so she was saying it was pretty cool to be together sharing this experience in the same language. Now that they know how Trailhead Direct works, they feel more confident taking the bus by themselves or inviting people because they know where to go and how it functions. So I think that it’s good for bringing inclusivity to the outdoors.

Photo Credit: Ernest Mak

Q: Do any other moments from the hike stand out as particularly great or memorable? 

Oni: I was going up with four members and the rest of the group was already waiting for us on top. It was pretty beautiful to meet together at the top and then share lunch. I think that was the highlight because they had the chance to introduce themselves to each other and then also get to see Cindy’s and Kevin’s group, sharing food on top—I think that was very, very special. We also helped each other take pictures from the different groups, so that felt very in communion. On the same note, when we were meeting on the way up or the way down with Allan’s group, and seeing how they cheered each other on, I think that was so wholesome.

Cindy: A mother and her two-year-old joined our group and even though she and her daughter were typically behind, she really let her daughter try to walk as much of the trail as possible. Something I noticed was that everyone else in the group was patient, and offered to support her or carry the daughter. She also expressed it was really great that she didn’t feel like she was judged for being slow or being the last one and that was really great that people were supportive and did not set expectations. Even for the other mother and her six-year-old—she and her daughter liked to go off trail a lot and spend a lot of time doing all those things and it was awesome to see her let her daughter learn how to connect with nature in a way that was more exploring and not in any particular way. I think parents here are really wanting to let their kids experience nature in their own way and express themselves and enjoy being outside.

Ernest: Because I was leading seniors, I thought they might need more rest. I kept asking if they needed water breaks or to rest a little bit, but they ended up always saying they didn’t need it, that they were okay, and to just keep going and so I was the one asking for rest. I just remember thinking “Wow you guys are amazing, you guys just keep going.” I was amazed by them, by how great they are, athletically speaking. 

Kevin: After the hike, we were pretty hungry even though we got a lot of sandwiches. We took the light rail back, and for those who could stay, we went to a restaurant to eat and connect further. It was fun to really get to know each other more through deeper conversation and getting to know their families as well. After the hike, a lot of the participants really wanted to continue doing activities like this so we created the Vietnamese hiking club group chat. As we continue to do outreach we will add the people who are interested to the chat. People post the hikes that they’re going on and a lot of the people like carpooling together to go hiking so it’s like a community gathering so that they can continue enjoying nature beyond this program.

Photo by Oni Curitol

ECOSS’ in-language Trailhead Direct trips are made possible by the support of King County Metro, King County Parks, the Wilderness Society, and the Washington Trails Association. To learn more about ECOSS’ programs, visit ecoss.org/projects.

Thank you for joining us for the Sustainable Futures Fest!

Thank you to everyone that participated in last week’s Sustainable Futures Fest virtual fundraiser. We appreciate the support of everyone who tuned in and donated! In case you couldn’t catch the fundraiser live, the videos of each day are available now.

From conversations around environmental justice to innovations in environmental outreach, ECOSS is leading the region on empowering immigrants and refugees to promote community health while protecting the environment. It’s not too late to support ECOSS to go even further. Help us reach our goal of $40,000 and invest in underserved communities and small businesses.

ECOSS featured in Audubon Magazine!

“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!

Check out the article here

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.

Read more about ECOSS’ Trailhead Direct outreach

Lowering barriers and inspiring outdoors enthusiasts

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

One hiking trip centered on a group of 34 Latinx community members that included all ages! Photo Credit: ECOSS.

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.


Read more Trailhead Direct stories!

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.

First Trailhead Direct trip of the season in the books!

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.

Most Trailhead Direct bus stops feature this sign. Unfortunately, it is often missed by those who are unfamiliar. Photo Credit: Joycelyn Chui / ECOSS.

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.

More stories on outdoors access here!

ECOSS featured in WIRED article on outdoors access!

WIRED magazine interviewed Multicultural Outreach Manager Allan Kafley about his experience leading community members on outdoors adventures.

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:

Check out the article!

Hiking at Cougar Mountain. Photo Credit: Eli Brownell / King County.

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.

Learn more about New Arrivals

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.

Trailhead Direct Expands to Tukwila

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.

Program Outreach Manager Jose Chi speaking at the launch of the Tukwila Trailhead Direct route. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens, 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!

Learn more about outreach with New Arrivals

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.

Congratulations Green Globe Awardees!

Congratulations to Young’s Restaurant and The Wilderness Society for being two of 2019’s Green Globe Awardees!

Young’s Restaurant family with ECOSS partner.Photo Credit: ECOSS.

Presented by King County, the Green Globe Award recognizes outstanding leadership in environmental stewardship. It is the County’s highest honor for local environmental efforts.

Young’s Restaurant is the first Seattle business to utilize King County’s RainWise rebate program. ECOSS facilitated the installation process by recruiting multicultural contractors, guiding them through the RainWise certification training and helping the Vietnamese and Chinese contractors and restaurant owners through the English-dominated process.

The Wilderness Society and ECOSS partners. Photo Credit: Ned Ahrens / King County.

The Wilderness Society partnered with ECOSS to conduct outreach around the Trailhead Direct public transit service within historically underserved communities of color. This affordable alternative to driving provides greater access to the natural beauty that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. With support form The Wilderness Society and King County Parks, ECOSS extended awareness of the service into the Bhutanese, Latinx, Korean and Khmer communities of the Greater Seattle area.

Dow Constantine. Photo Credit: ECOSS.

“Throughout King County, people, businesses and nonprofits are doing extraordinary work to protect the spectacular natural environment that is central to our identity and our quality of life,” said Executive Constantine. “The Green Globe Award recipients we honor today inspire and challenge us to leave this special place even better for future generations.”

ECOSS received the Green Globe Award in 1999 for leadership in protecting water quality and in 2015 for leadership in environmental equity. Building on experience, ECOSS is proud to share its strengths and elevate others to be environmental and equity leaders.

Congratulations again to Young’s Restaurant and The Wilderness Society. Read more about their work and ECOSS’ role in promoting outdoors access and environmental equity.

Check out this year’s 13 amazing Green Globe Awardees

Multicultural outreach extends green outdoor access to diverse communities

“ECOSS’ ambassador model and community-based work is invaluable and irreplaceable. Their successful outreach is a major achievement of the Trailhead Direct program.” — Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust

Bhutanese community used the Trailhead Direct service to travel to Mt. Si. Photo Credit: Allan Kafley, ECOSS.

Over the summer and autumn of 2018, ECOSS led 65 hikers from diverse communities on hikes throughout Washington! For numerous hikers, these trips were only possible thanks to Trailhead Direct, a service launched by King County Parks and King County Metro.

Many immigrant and refugee communities around Puget Sound yearn for opportunities to connect with nature, but face language, cultural and lifestyle barriers to accessing the outdoors. Transportation access is one of the greatest of these barriers.

“Trailhead Direct is a great way to protect our environment by not driving personal cars.” — Bhutanese community member.

King County’s Trailhead Direct service seeks to lower the transportation barrier by providing an affordable alternative to driving to faraway hiking destinations. At the same price point as any other bus ride in the city, a Trailhead Direct bus will drop you off and pick you up at trailheads at Issaquah Alps, Mt. Si and Mailbox Peak. And by partnering with ECOSS, Trailhead Direct reached communities in 2018 that would otherwise have never heard of this transportation option.

Trailhead Direct enabled the Cambodian community to bring all family members hiking, from youth to seniors. Photo Credit: Sophorn Sim / ECOSS.

To help King County learn about the accessibility of Trailhead Direct and improve the service, ECOSS led hiking trips via Trailhead Direct with members of the Bhutanese, Cambodian, Korean and Latinx communities. In partnership with King County Parks and The Wilderness Society, we also developed surveys that gauged participants’ outdoors experience and solicited feedback on the Trailhead Direct trips.

During our outreach, 53% of hikers were new to the activity and 42% were youth or seniors. And regardless of age or experience, all hikers enjoyed Trailhead Direct and would recommend it to others. Check out our infographic summarizing the season’s outreach for other statistics and feedback from communities!

ECOSS’ New Arrivals program connects immigrants and refugees with environmental education and outdoor experiences that align with their interests. We look forward to continuing partnerships to ensure diverse communities can take advantage of Trailhead Direct service.

Check out other New Arrivals activities

Thank you to King County Parks and The Wilderness Society for your generous funding and support. And thank you to Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for connecting us to the opportunity to conduct this outreach. We’re proud to lower the transportation barrier to the outdoors and enable connections to nature for all.

Increasing Access to the Outdoors – One Trailhead at a Time

The Pacific Northwest is heralded as a hiker’s paradise. According to a recent economic analysis, the average Washington state resident spends nearly a full two months recreating outdoors every year!

Trailhead Direct Logo

Yet, some communities are still not able to enjoy these Pacific Northwest splendors. One of the greatest barriers is the lack of transportation access. To reach beyond urban centers, you need a car. At least, that was the case until recently.

Trailhead Direct is an expanding program that leverages public transit to provide affordable, accessible transportation to the outdoors. Jointly led by King County Parks and King County Metro, Trailhead Direct offers direct routes between transit centers in Capitol Hill and Mt. Baker to trailheads at Mt. Si, Issaquah Alps and Mailbox Peak.

Bhutanese Community Members at Cedar River Watershed

Bhutanese Community Members at Cedar River Watershed

Over the summer months, ECOSS staff will plan and lead groups on hikes via Trailhead Direct. Be on the lookout for opportunities to get involved! And thanks to the generous support of King County Parks and The Wilderness Society, ECOSS is excited to broaden the reach of Trailhead Direct to diverse communities. We specialize in multicultural outreach, using our staff’s ability to speak over a dozen languages. Through our New Arrivals Program, we connect immigrants and refugees with opportunities to engage with their environment. Trailhead Direct enables us to provide more transportation options and make outdoor recreation a more accessible and inclusive activity for all.

Thank you to Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for connecting us to this exciting program!

Learn More About Our Multicultural Approach