Photo by Ruan Copeland. Author is second from right in beige jacket.

A Relationship Grounded in my Community

Bianca McGrath-Martinez is the program manager for HECHO (Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors)

My relationship and love for public lands is something that I came into as an adult. I did not grow up camping, hiking, or anything related to the outdoors. My parents worked a lot and I really didn’t even have an interest in being outside. It was not until my early 20s, when I moved to Iceland to spend a year studying Icelandic, that I had experiences that brought me outside and exposed me to the endless wonder that is this earth.

I had a large group of friends and the majority of them came to Iceland having already spent a lot of time in the outdoors — or so it seemed to me. They introduced me to hiking, camping, and a variety of adventure which led me to glaciers, hot springs, waterfalls, mountains, black sand beaches, and the inside of a recently dormant volcano.

The relationship I have with the land grew out of community and friendship and it has continued to deepen as I’ve moved from Maryland to Los Angeles, and now to Denver. I found my Colorado familia just about a year ago in September of 2019 in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. It was at an event that brought together three separate, but very similar, groups to explore the intersections of our history and identity while hiking a small section of the Continental Divide Trail which led us into the Vasquez Peak Wilderness.

The groups were Latino Outdoors, Outdoor Afro, and the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, who all seek to strengthen and grow the connection that their members have with the outdoors. The trail intersects through a variety of environmental, historical and cultural landscapes and the idea was to honor the land and the time together by exploring the intersections within ourselves as well.

The connection I have with certain parks, wilderness, and wildlife areas does not necessarily stem from the landmarks, such as a mountain peak, a particular rock structure or species of wildlife (although that absolutely adds to the experience), but rather the experiences I have had with the people I explore them with.

I recently became a volunteer outings leader with the Colorado chapter of Latino Outdoors because I truly believe that my connection to public lands would not have resulted in life-long passion and work had it not been for the people in my life that got me out there. I now want to provide those experiences to others. Without my experiences on public lands and on the Continental Divide Trail that day in September, I do not think I would have (as gracefully) embraced my identity, experienced fly fishing, ice fishing, rock climbing, white water rafting, or ended up advocating for Latinx peoples and public lands policy with HECHO.

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So many of our country’s parks and public lands written about in these love notes would not exist but for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). This important conservation program was permanently funded when Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act earlier this summer. You can learn more about the Land and Water Conservation Fund here.

Would you like to write about public lands that you cherish? Please email Mary Jo Brooks at brooksm@nwf.org for guidelines.

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National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

National Wildlife Federation — Our Public Lands

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.