The new Mountain Dreamers initiative aims to make outdoor activities more equitable for the immigrant community in Summit County.
Javier Pineda, co-founder and coordinator of Mountain Dreamers, said he grew up enjoying the outdoors. From his family orchards in Mexico to being a Boy Scout to continuing his love of being in nature as an adult, the importance of the outdoors to him has changed over time. Now, he wants to expand access to break down the obstacles the immigrant community may face when accessing aspects of the outdoors.
“In the beginning, for me, it was important for people to have equipment,” he said. “Then after more thought and more research, we realized that was more than just a band-aid because it helps, but it doesn’t really treat the bigger problems.”
Pineda said he wants Oso Outdoors to tackle systemic barriers rather than just programming. The initiative will seek to identify and dismantle barriers to access wherever they are in order to increase opportunities for underrepresented communities in the mountains to be able to access outdoor spaces and public lands. This can include obstacles such as language, cost, or feeling excluded in outdoor settings. Another is knowing how to understand reservation systems, which require driver’s licenses, which not everyone has.
“A lot of people like me who look like me may not have the same opportunities, and we face different barriers — some of which are financial, cultural, or very general barriers that we talk about a lot,” he said. “I also realize that another barrier that we don’t often want to talk about is the experience of immigration, as we like to call it.”
Pineda added that he also faced obstacles when participating in the outdoors that the non-immigrant community might take for granted. He said he and two friends tried to get fishing licenses from Walmart but were refused because of their identity. DACA recipients, also known as the Deferred Action Program for Childhood Arrivals, had specific markings on their driver’s licenses, and at the time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife did not accept them.
Long story short, I came home, and posted in this Latin group on Facebook, ‘By any chance, does anyone else have this experience with fishing licenses? And that, there’s a lot of comments like, “Yeah, my relatives” or “My friends did that” and I’m like, “Oh, that’s actually a problem.”
Across the state, others were having similar problems. While some Colorado Walmart will take them, others will not. This created an access gap. Pineda said that through some phone calls with the leaders, they were able to add those licenses to the list of acceptable tariffs for the next cycle. Changing larger systems like this, he said, is what Oso Outdoors aims to do.
“I think this is an important piece to make more people feel comfortable and create confidence – to slowly build that level of activity if they really want to,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘Why don’t people budge on their country (skateboarding) or shut down skills?'” “It takes a lot of training to get to this level. So it’s a bit like seeing it step by step to kind of build the foundation.”
At the state level, legislators are taking steps to create and support programming that will support equality in the outside industry. In 2021, the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife formed the Outdoor Equity Board, which oversees the Outdoor Equity Grant Program. The scholarship program received $1.5 million in lottery money and will receive $3 million by fiscal year 2023-2024 and each year thereafter. Funds for the grant program are intended to encourage and support programs that reduce barriers to Colorado’s outdoors, create conservation trails or provide environmental and outdoor educational opportunities.
“Our goal is to get (partners) to fund some of the projects that increase their ability to be inclusive, maybe be a bilingual insurance company, or connect with the community to see ways to invite and welcome people into the national forest,” said Peter Bakken, CEO of Mountain Dreamers: “And whatever the company offers.” Or (may be) working on issues related to some state regulation. People in the community love to fish, but you need a fishing license. It’s not easy to get, especially if you’re an immigrant, if the language isn’t English is your first language (or) if you don’t have a country identity. There are a lot of barriers.”
Pineda said that change in the outside world will not happen overnight, but that small changes over time will make larger systemic changes possible.
“How do you move a mountain? You move one pebble at a time.”