: Wild Diversity

Making Oregon’s Outdoors Welcoming for All

July 9, 2019

Mercy M’fon Shammah loves to hike, backpack, snowshoe, paddle and enjoy Oregon’s outdoors the same as any other adventurer. But she takes her enthusiasm to another level: She’s working to make the outdoors more accessible for all.

The Portland-based activist — who is African American and queer — is the star of a brand-new 30-minute documentary called “Our Trails Too,” which shines a spotlight on the movement to reclaim Oregon’s outdoor spaces for people of color and the LGBTQ community.

Mercy M'fon Shammah is founder of the nonprofit Wild Diversity, which works to increase and promote inclusivity in the outdoors.
Advertisements

“I hope more people of color and queer and trans folks just feel comfortable getting outside and it becomes a joyous experience,” M’fon Shammah says. “[I hope that] they feel welcome and safe, and it sparks that movement for people in our community. [Exploring the outdoors] can be really scary sometimes. If they can feel like they have more allies than potential dangers, I think that would make a big difference.”  

Two Portland filmmakers, Liz Haan and Emilia Quinton, worked to produce the film, which chronicles M’fon Shammah’s challenges, successes, dreams and goals as founder and program director of the nonprofit Wild Diversity. The group hosts outdoor adventures and workshops for adults and youth who are black, indigenous, people of color, trans and queer; as well as low-income youth to help them to explore the landscapes of Oregon.

“There’s very real safety concerns” for these groups when adventuring outside, says film director Haan, who uses “they” pronouns. “Being outside can be really vulnerable, especially if you don’t have a group, and specifically being in a remote location.” 

 

Portland-based Wild Diversity leads outdoor adventures for its members, who may not feel comfortable venturing outside on their own.

Wild Diversity works to tackle these barriers through events including a weekly beginner hike series, wheelchair-accessible hikes, backpacking trips, campouts and other gatherings, most of which are open to the public through sign-ups. Scholarships are available for multi-day trips. The group also hosts a gear library that gladly accepts donated items ranging from sleeping bags and backpacks to footwear, camp kitchenware and paddling equipment.

M’fon Shammah especially enjoys canoeing — multi-day trips on the water really allow her to feel the rhythm of the natural setting, she says. While she’s traveled extensively throughout the United States and the world, she’s called Oregon home for the past eight years. She loves it for its sheer accessibility to the outdoors — she just wants every group to have the same access. “It’s just peaceful,” she says. “We often get into the same routine, waking up and going back to bed. Being in the outdoors not only gets you out of the boring routine, it helps you feel your body; use your senses to their full potential.”  

An outdoor workshop led by Wild Diversity introduces new skills to people from all walks of life. The new "Our Trails Too'" documentary examines the local and national movement to promote diversity in the outdoors.

In partnership with Travel Oregon, Oregon Film, Danner Boots and the Portland Film Office at Prosper Portland, “Our Trails Too” debuted to a packed house and standing-ovation in late May. The project team will now enter a variety of film festivals, then decide how it will be available for public viewing in Oregon and nationwide.

M’fon Shammah says the film screening was a powerful moment for her, as she watched how people reacted to different scenes of the film with a shared laugh, groan or exclamation. “It was surprisingly validating,” she says. “People were identifying with it. … It’s good for everybody to share that — you don’t have to sit there silently and take people treating you poorly. You can have this solidarity. Solidarity is the most important thing marginalized people have.” 

“There’s immense beauty to explore and experience,” remarks Haan. “[Access to the outdoors is] ostensibly free and open, but it’s really important to look beneath the surface,” they say. “These issues and very real barriers can be easy to overlook or ignore for people who don’t experience them.”

The half-hour documentary, "Our Trails Too," debuted to a Portland audience in May as a grant project of the Oregon Film Office.

Find out more

“Our Trails Too” is the first of five films to be produced during a 2-year period by Oregon Made Creative Foundation, funded by the Outdoor Adventure Film Grant. The next films will focus on winter recreation; a young woman of color biking through the Three Sisters Wilderness; and the physical and mental health impact of spending time in the outdoors. 

Oregon is home to a number of groups working to promote more diversity in the outdoors, including:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Wild Diversity (@wilddiversity) on

Wild Diversity

Founded by “Our Trails Too” star Mercy M’fon Shammah, Wild Diversity supports people of color (POC) and queer folks in the outdoors. The organization builds community through outdoor adventure, day and weekend trips, workshops, tours and more.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Unlikely Hikers (@unlikelyhikers) on

Unlikely Hikers

Unlikely Hikers is a diverse and inclusive Instagram community that features underrepresented outdoors people. The group hosts safe, supportive, body-positive group hikes across the Pacific Northwest.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Fat Girls Hiking (@fatgirlshiking) on

Fat Girls Hiking

With the motto “Trails Not Scales,” Fat Girls Hiking is a body-positive community that focuses on self-care in the great outdoors. Founded in Oregon and now nationwide, the group provides safer spaces for marginalized folks and allies with frequent events.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by womenwhoexplore_oregon (@womenwhoexplore_oregon) on

Women Who Explore

A nationwide organization, Women Who Explore aims to empower women to get outside and explore. The Oregon chapter hosts local events as well as plans national and international trips.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Vive NW (@vive_nw) on

Vive NW

Aiming to diversify the outdoors, Vive NW connects local Latino communities to the  wealth of experiences offered through nature. The organization is primarily based in Oregon and hosts events in all four seasons.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Oregon Adaptive Sports (@oregon_adaptive_sports) on

Oregon Adaptive Sports

For 20+ years, Oregon Adaptive Sports (OAS) has provided life-changing outdoor recreation experiences to individuals with disabilities. As the premier adaptive sports organization in the Pacific Northwest, OAS provides a range of year-round programs.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Outdoor Afro HQ (@outdoorafro) on

Outdoor Afro

Outdoor Afro is a community that reconnects African-Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities such as camping, hiking, biking, birding, fishing, gardening, skiing and more. The Portland chapter hosts group events year round.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Hike it Baby (@hikeitbaby) on

Hike It Baby

With chapters across the United States, Hike it Baby connects families with young children to nature and to one another. The group offers a library of trails approved by its community as well as local hiking events.

About The
Author

Jen Anderson
Jen Anderson writes and edits Travel Oregon's e-newsletters and other online content. She loves finding the latest places to eat, drink and play around the state with her husband and two young boys. Brewpubs, beaches and bike trails top the list.

Trip Ideas