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.