Medcalf: Black outdoorsman wants Minnesota BIPOC residents to see state parks and trails as their own too

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When Dudley Edmondson, a black outdoorsman, told me he refused to let anyone make him feel like he wasn’t allowed to visit any public space in Minnesota and beyond, I nodded. the head.

“I understood that public land was public land and I didn’t feel like I was going to let anyone take me away from that land, so my attitude was ‘I belong wherever I choose to’. be,” said Edmondson, a photographer, conservationist, and author, who wrote the book “Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places.”

“And it allowed me to go where I want to go.”

For more than 30 years, the Duluth resident has hiked around the world in places accessible to all but not always considered inclusive. Its mission is to encourage the people of BIPOC to enjoy the recreation and relaxation available in state and national parks, reserves and trails.

Luckily, admission is free at all 75 state parks and recreation areas in Minnesota today, June 11 – one of four free park days of the year designed to get everyone in the Minnesota.

“Black people, sometimes we feel like outdoor spaces don’t belong to us,” Edmondson said. “And that’s what I’ve tried to reverse throughout my career as a public speaker.”

I also have this desire to see more black and brown people outdoors, a desire that has grown with my love for hiking in recent years.

I hiked the monstrous moon dunes of White Sands National Park in Alamogordo, New Mexico. I hiked the gritty trails along the Mineral Ridge National Recreation Trail near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I’ve also ventured to parks and recreation sites in Texas, Arizona, Hawaii, California, and Oklahoma.

On weekends, I like to walk around Lake Elmo Park Preserve or the waterways and trails dotted around the Twin Cities. This summer, I will resume fishing and bird watching. And I’m also hoping to learn more about the gear I’ll need for hiking in the winter months.

During the pandemic, these getaways have been my escape.

The outdoors has always been healing for Edmondson too. He has traveled the world, from the Arctic Circle to the Bahamas. When we spoke, he was preparing to attend a national Black Birders convention.

He was a child when he started to love the outdoors.

He realized that the chaos in his home, often fueled by alcohol, would dissipate each time his family visited a local reservoir near Columbus, Ohio. This is where his love for the outdoors blossomed.

“People just had fun and there was no drama in that outdoor space,” he said. “And I found, when I was there, the peace and quiet was so therapeutic for me. It made such a difference to me. I learned that you can process trauma with exposure to nature. I learned that from childhood and it’s something I’ve done all my life.”

Edmondson and I share an appreciation for the calming elements of the outdoors and a desire to see more people like us each time we’re out there. But we also understand the obstacles.

It’s not unique to be Black in a space full of white Minnesotans, but there’s a sense among BIPOC communities that these public parks and trails don’t belong to everyone here. This is one of the most powerful components of systemic racism: its message about who owns what and where. A 2020 study by the National Park Service showed that only 23% of people who visited national parks that year were from communities of color.

When Christian Cooper, a black birding enthusiast, was confronted by Amy Cooper (no relation), who called the police and falsely accused him of threatening her in New York’s Central Park there At two years old, this has only amplified concerns about the safety of BIPOC people who may want to explore these public spaces but wonder how they will be treated.

Edmondson said his father couldn’t understand how he felt so comfortable traveling across the country knowing he would be one of the only black people there.

When his father was a young man, Edmondson said, he had to make sure he knew the back roads and haul his own food whenever he traveled from Columbus, Ohio, to Nashville. A stop in the wrong bathroom could have cost him his life. This history has shaped the perception of our vast parks and other public spaces that are sparsely occupied by BIPOC people.

Edmondson tries to counter these perceptions by taking people out into nature where they can see what he sees when he’s out there.

“My feeling is if you can just get people there and they have an experience that’s unique to them where that might be just enough where they feel like there’s no way back to live as they did, they will understand a way to regain green space,” he said.

With gasoline nationally averaged over $5 a gallon for the first time and high airfares, many families will have to cancel or adjust their travel plans in the months ahead. A trip to a local park might not only become an option, but a necessity.

And I want all Minnesota communities of color to know what so many white people here already enjoy: the serenity of the outdoors. We all have access to these parks and trails rich in wildlife, greenery and peaceful sounds that can transport a person to another world – just a few miles from home.

It is also up to us to take advantage of it.

“You know,” Edmondson said, “I just go where I want to go.”

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and also online.

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