Wilderness Workshop's Defiende Nuestra Tierra Outreach Program Connects Latinos with Their Public Lands

Tess Strokes | August 22, 2019 | Lifestyle Feature

Latino families were among participants in a hike up Red Hill, outside of Carbondale, as part of the series.

When 51-year-old Glenwood Springs resident Veronica Rubalcava showed up at the Rifle Arch trailhead last summer for a hike with Wilderness Workshop and its new Defiende Nuestra Tierra (Defend Our Land) program, it was her first long walk off cement. She and nine other Latino and Anglo participants hiked the 3 miles to the slickrock arch while listening to Beatriz Soto, WW’s Latino outreach coordinator, explain—in Spanish and English—the scenery while touching on public land conservation issues.

By the end of the hike, Rubalcava was hooked. She attended four more WW hikes that summer, bringing friends and neighbors and meeting like-minded strangers who became friends by the end of the season. She had never entered the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness until the program guided her from the East Maroon Wilderness portal to Maroon Lake, and last winter with Defiende, she tried snowshoeing. With each new experience, Rubalcava’s confidence and curiosity grew.

“I appreciate the program so much,” says Rubalcava. “I always wanted to hike, but I never wanted to go into the outdoors alone. With this program, I have learned and seen so much, and I have much more appreciation for nature. The views, the sounds… we stop to listen to the trees, the river. … I like it so much.”

Participants on one of Wilderness Workshop’s inaugural Defiende Nuestra Tierra hikes

According to a recent poll conducted by Colorado College’s State of the Rockies project, the Latino population is overwhelmingly supportive of protecting the environment and preserving public lands, yet they are also among the most underengaged demographic when it comes to environmental activism. In the summer of 2018, WW launched Defiende Nuestra Tierra to tap into the influential voice of the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Latino communities (Latinos represent 30 percent of citizens in Garfield and Eagle counties) and partner with the people living there to steward and protect public lands. Defiende aims to increase the demographic’s baseline knowledge of public lands and their management through a series of hikes and community engagement events; build and expand upon a conservation ethos; and focus on specific concerns of local Latino communities regarding public lands.

Soto starts every WW hike with a pronouncement: “This is yours,” she tells the group, gesturing to the public land surrounding them. “We want people to enjoy these places—to understand that our public lands are here for them regardless of whether they were born in another country or participate in outdoor recreation.” Soto’s outreach targets a demographic who often lacks the time, energy, funds or knowledge to recreate in the White River National Forest. But despite the cultural barriers and logistical challenges, she says creating a bond between the Latino community and public lands is only one hike away. “All it takes is a single positive experience for someone to understand the importance of public lands to our community.” July 20, Aug. 24-25, Sept. 21


Photography by: justin patrick/wilderness workshop