Community group aims to bring Black Michiganders together through outdoor recreation

Ian Solomon, 24, has been an avid outdoor recreationist for six years, but being Black meant he never really saw people outside who looked like him.

This lack of representation eventually became the inspiration behind Amplify Outside, a group Solomon created with the goal of “liberating community through outdoor recreation.”

“I just really built that relationship with the outdoors,” he said. “And I’m just someone who likes to share things with people.”

Ron Olson, chief of parks and recreation at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said location is a primary factor in the diversity represented in the state parks— the department doesn’t track how often certain demographics utilize the state’s outdoor recreation, but he has seen that it varies from place to place.

“There’s a lot more engagement that we want to try to do and make things as relevant as we possibly can,” Olson said. “The system is welcoming to everybody.”

A Detroit native, Solomon first fell in love with the outdoors after his family’s move from the city to West Bloomfield in his senior year of high school.

“All of a sudden, I’m surrounded by trees, lakes and things like that, that I previously just never really thought about or knew was there,” Solomon said.

Solomon said that he thinks a large hindrance for why Black people don’t typically explore the outdoors is that some have the belief that outdoor recreation is exclusively for white people; something he said is not true.

“They’re just the people who have immediate access to it,” Solomon said.

Solomon’s new adventure with Amplify Outside started on Twitter, once he saw people start to take notice after he began sharing his experience camping, hiking and exploring Michigan trails.

“I was just really surprised by how many people were kind of reaching out to me and replying,” Solomon said. “I didn’t expect people to care that much.”

The unexpected, but welcome, responses led to him creating an Amplify Outside TikTok account, where he broke down the how, where and what of the outdoor excursions he was traveling to in different places throughout the state, as well as the cost of what it takes to do so.

“It seems like that’s the keystone that’s drawing get-togethers — that people would feel more comfortable if they saw more people like that out here,” Solomon said.

The attention reinforced Solomon’s belief that there are legitimate barriers preventing Black residents from taking trips to outdoor recreation spots in Michigan.

Driven by a need for data, Solomon shared a Google Survey to Amplify Outside’s social media accounts, asking Black Michiganders to weigh in on their experiences outdoors.

The survey generated over 200 responses and, according to Solomon, results showed that access, representation and economic barriers are some of the biggest deterring factors that’s preventing more Black people from exploring nature.

Of the survey respondents, 64% also said that racism plays a role in their willingness to explore Michigan’s wilderness.

“Having more people outside and showing and representing that we are outdoors — and you can run into another Black person on a trail — is important,” Solomon said.

Solomon hopes to use these survey responses as backing to help expand the group in the future, and guide the group as it continues to grow.

“Data is power when talking about community organizing,” Solomon said. “It just demonstrates how excited people are about getting outside and just how badly we need to break down those barriers.”

Olson said in order to help communities of color in exploring Michigan’s outdoor recreational spaces, one of the goals for the DNR is to provide a variety of offerings to help people find what it is that they enjoy doing.

“One of the ideas is to work towards identifying all the things we could be doing and then initiate actions to make what we’re doing as relevant as we can to diverse populations,” Olson said. “This is something that we want to keep working at. And the other thing is trying to continue to diversify our staffing employees so that, when people come to the park, there’s people that look like them.”

This summer, Solomon plans to work on building a team around his effort’s organization and fundraising. He also wants to organize group outings in different locations across the state. The first being planned is a public, outdoor “sound bath” event in May, which will be held on Belle Isle in Detroit.

“Michigan overall is an extremely Black state, there’s so many Black communities all about,” Solomon said. “We look at this as an opportunity to not just get people outside, but to connect Michigan’s Black communities.”

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