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Big City Mountaineers: Featured Outdoor Diversity Organization


It’s the start of a new month and we’re continuing our ongoing community effort to showcase organizations that promote social justice, diversity and more inclusive access to public lands and nature. In December, we’re shining a light on the important work of Big City Mountaineers (BCM).

In the past 30+ years, this Colorado-based organization has given more than 11,000 young people the opportunity to “connect with nature and develop their strengths, skills and resilience.”

They strive to break down barriers to outdoor access for youth from disinvested and underrepresented communities.

About Big City Mountaineers

Big City Mountaineers provides young people with a new perspective by offering backcountry trips that are fully outfitted and professionally led. Additionally, and arguably most importantly, these trips are also completely free for participants.

This allows hundreds of kids ages 8 to 18 to immerse themselves in America’s wildest landscapes, an experience they might never have had otherwise.

These transformative experiences in nature offer a multitude of benefits to young participants in ways cities alone cannot. By thoughtfully addressing social, psychological and physical barriers, BCM supports youth participants in uncovering their own sources of confidence, strength, serenity, resilience and joy.

So far, BCM has organized almost 800 backcountry expeditions, worked with 5,000 volunteers and offered 42,000 nights under the stars to thousands of youth across the United States.

Headquartered in Denver, Colorado, Big City Mountaineers also operates in six other American cities—Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

They are currently focused on developing and expanding their scaffolded approach to outdoor experiences. BCM works closely with youth agency partners to create a series of experiences that build upon themselves, allowing students to develop both their technical skills and their confidence through increasingly lengthy adventures.

A typical series of experiences includes planning workshops, day hikes, skill-building outings, an overnight, and a multi-night expedition.

You can find more information about the Big City Mountaineers programs here.

Big City Mountaineers was founded in 1989 by Jim Kern. After a spot opened up on one of his own backpacking trips to Montana, he invited a kid to come along who had never had the opportunity to have such an immersive experience in nature before.

Jim witnessed how necessary it was for everyone to be able to have life-changing experiences in nature.

After his trip, he started working to make that a reality. That 1989 backpacking excursion ended up being the inspiration for what would eventually become Big City Mountaineers.

Nowadays, BCM is one of the highest-rated and most-recognized outdoor diversity organizations in the United States. They have a gold star from GuideStar, four stars from Charity Navigator and its programs are recognized by MENTOR.

To show how powerful and unforgettable these backpacking trips can be, I’d like to share some testimonials from children who went on an expedition.

“Dear BCM, Thank you for changing my life. This may seem like an over-exaggeration but it’s not. Before this trip, I never thought I was physically capable of backpacking for a week, or even summiting a mountain. Today, I’m feeling powerful and strong. I feel like I can do anything and I greatly appreciate it. During the BCM trip, I had time to reflect on myself and my personal growth. Thank you so much and I can’t wait to hike again.”

“For a long time, I doubted my abilities. BCM showed me I can push myself to go farther, grow stronger, and be better than I ever thought I could be.”

“I’d like to thank you for an awesome, unique experience. If this opportunity did not exist, I wouldn’t have had the best week of my life. I shared so many beautiful moments with new people that I will cherish forever.”

“The experiences that I had during the BCM trip had a major impact on who I am as a person. I learned how to be more vulnerable and open to others, which helped me be happier and feel lighter, as if some of my problems were more solvable than I first thought.”

You can read many more stories and personal experiences from previous participants here.

Support and Donate

If you’ve been on a long and challenging hike or sat quietly alongside a river watching the water flow by, chances are you know how powerful experiences in nature can be. Beneficial on physical, emotional and psychological levels, spending time outdoors can sometimes literally be life-changing, too, which is one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of.

If you’ve had an experience like this and felt the transformative power of immersion in nature, we invite you to join us in making a donation to Big City Mountaineers.

Your contribution will help provide access to the outdoors to young urban kids from underrepresented communities.

Image courtesy: Big City Mountaineers

You Can Help Bridge the Diversity Gap in the Outdoor Industry

An overview of diversity and inclusivity organizations we have supported can be found here. This document contains information about what these organizations are doing and how you can donate to them directly.

We also set up a submission form you can use if you know an organization that’s working to make the outdoors more diverse and inclusive. If you want to see them supported, please submit via this form.

This content was originally published here.

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