Christopher Kilgour encourages residents of color to venture out into the outdoors of their own backyards whether exploring nature in a park or walking down the street.
The Color in the Outdoors (CITO) founder has spent a majority of his life exploring nature. As a child, Kilgour learned about the ecosystem and environmental stewardship from his parents. He then shared his knowledge about the environment with others.
“About 20 years ago now, I started looking at doing this in a more formalized way, and started taking groups of folks out,” he said.
In the beginning of all this, Kilgour would share information via word of mouth, send out email blasts or post the time and location of an upcoming hike on social media. Over time, more outdoor affinity groups began: Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, Natives Who Hike and other groups specific to different ethnicities or identities.
“I decided along kind of the same lines, with my own personal background of being a multiracial human being, I really wanted to try to continue to encourage and foster conversation as a group of folks with a mixed population of people,” Kilgour said.
He discovered his real focus was representation of all of those aforementioned groups in the process of further developing what CITO would look like. Through CITO, Kilgour plans outdoor excursions such as daylong hikes, hunting, fishing or canoeing for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, differently abled people and others who belong to traditionally marginalized groups.
“I don’t want hate or ‘isms’ to be a part of the conversation and energy of what we do,” he said.
Kilgour also initiates intentional conversations about why different groups of people say the outdoors is not for them. Sometimes these reasons include historical trauma, lack of access, stigma or stereotypes.
“We have this kind of misconception that being an ‘outdoorsy’ person or being a person who does things in the outdoors, the instant image that comes to mind is hiking or camping or mountain climbing or all of these extreme or high level activities,” he said while looking across the street at a city park.
Kilgour says local parks are natural spaces. He also said individuals and families looking to do outdoor activities should start small.
“You can literally walk across the street right now and you can learn about, within my eyesight, probably 150 plant species. There’s a body of water. You can learn about fish and insects and aquatic life in general. If you sit long enough, you can see dozens of species of birds,” Kilgour said.
In most places, we are surrounded by nature; however, most people don’t think about their regular walks, bike rides or sitting on the porch as doing something outdoors. Kilgour thinks we often fall prey to advertising for clothing brands projecting an image of what a “true outdoors person” should wear or look like.
“I say if you open the door and you look out on your front lawn, you’re outdoorsy,” he said.
Kilgour also encourages parents looking to educate themselves and their children to check out statewide agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The DNR hosts a number of programs and events for children to learn about local wildlife and habitats, explore new interests, and practice outdoor recreation skills.
“First and foremost, we have this wonderful beautiful thing called the internet and there’s just dozens and dozens and dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of websites out there that have all kinds of really awesome information,” Kilgour said.