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Redefining the Outdoor Lifestyle

By: Brooke Suitum (Acadian Rehab) and Claire McHenry (TMPF)

Experiencing the outdoors

From summiting tall mountain peaks to free-falling from an airplane to sea kayaking through island chains, the outdoor enthusiast lifestyle has taken a front seat in our world. This lifestyle typically entails a long morning run, a lunch-break brisk walk, an afternoon filled with kayaking, hiking, or climbing, and a night spent star-gazing. The whole idea of outdoor enthusiasm is to maximize daily exercise outdoors, often in the form of extreme activities. Does playing basketball at the local park’s court, taking strolls through neighborhoods, and planting flowers on an apartment deck not qualify as being outside? According to this lifestyle, simple outdoor activities are not ‘epic’ enough to qualify someone as an outdoorsy person. Often, the extreme adventure lifestyle is promoted as the only way to be a true outdoor user, but it is not accessible to all individuals. What if we shift the narrative of what it means to experience the outdoors to something more equitable? 

The fear of not being strong enough, cool enough, and even able enough can invalidate people’s experiences outside. If we throw out the concept of needing to quit our day jobs, travel to the most remote places, and purchase outdoor-branded clothing to be an outdoor user, we can open the world of the natural environment to all.

History of outdoor recreation

The use of the outdoors has been present since the evolution of humans. However, the history of it in the United States is much more recent. Jennifer Johnson of Washington State University breaks the history of outdoor recreation in the United States into six periods: frontier period (1750 - 1962), acquisition period (1782 - 1867), transfer and disposal period (1802 - 1934), reservation period (1872 - 1934), custodial management (1905 - 1962), and confrontation and partnership (1962 - present). 

The frontier period’s outdoor usage comes from the racist background of colonial expansion and the requirement to be a ‘rugged individual’ who can withstand the hardships of exploration. After European settlement, individuals moved from rural areas to cities and focused on work instead of recreation. During the acquisition period, cities realized the need for open space to mitigate the spread of infectious disease. New York City started construction of Central Park and, in the 1880's, recreation began to boom with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. During the custodial management period, influential outdoor leaders such as John Muir and Kurt Hahn developed clubs and organizations focused around recreating (Sierra Club, Outward Bound, Appalachian Mountain Club, others). At their beginnings, these clubs offered intense outdoor adventures that pushed the limits of participant’s physical and mental capacities. The history of outdoor recreation is rooted in the ability to participate in the most intense adventure. Today, the use of the outdoors has increased with the help of legislation, government agencies, and smaller nonprofits (Forest History Society and Social Welfare History Project). However, there is still a long way to go to support an accessible outdoor lifestyle.

Outdoors for all groups

Vanessa Chavarriaga, Colombian immigrant, professional skier, and environmental sociologist, writes about her relationship with white supremacy in Racism and Gatekeeping in the Outdoors on Melanin Base Camp. She describes her outdoor experience as one that requires her to fully embrace white culture and remove herself from her Colombian roots. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many BIPOC outdoor users. Environmental justice and access goes beyond systemic racism. The LGBTQ+ culture is generally focused around nightclubs, bars, and drinking activities (Newman for The Daily Yonder). Venturing into the rural outdoor world can cause anxiety amongst LGBTQ+ members as there is a lack of a queer community away from city centers. On top of this, individuals with invisible disabilities such as lupus, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, and cognitive disabilities can feel a pressure to match the effort of their able-bodied peers when it comes to outdoor exploration.

Physical accessibility 

Traditionally and historically, physical accessibility to participate in the outdoor lifestyle has been indicated for the able-bodied. Few handicapped parking spots, narrow dirt and gravel paths, and limited information on the accessibility of trails and parks are just a few of the barriers to the outdoors that can be named. The development of universal accessibility and accommodations benefit everyone in the outdoor community, not just the disabled community, and it starts by listening to the voices of people who need them. 

So, how can we move in the right direction of universal physical accessibility? Able-bodied individuals can lean on those in the community who have used their voice to advocate already. Founder of, disabled activist Syren Nagakyrie (they/she), gives concrete ideas to improve accessibility in their article Helping Disabled People Find Belonging Outdoors. These include: 

  • Updating information on road, parking, and trail conditions for those who may use accessible vans, wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility equipment.

  • Posting more signage that indicates elevation and surface information for people to make informed decisions if a trail is right for them.

  • Installing benches and opportunities to sit and marking them on a map.

  • Widening trails, where possible, for mobility equipment.

Currently, some adaptive equipment exists for individuals to help make the outdoors more accessible. These include:

  • Off-road wheelchairs & handcycles

  • Hunting and fishing mobility equipment

  • All-terrain crutches

  • Alpine bi-ski & mono-skis

  • Kayaking mobility equipment

However, the equipment can be very costly for individuals and is not economically accessible. Some organizations exist to aid in loaning or donating mobility equipment. Continue reading to learn about adaptive equipment available in Reno through TMPF and Acadian Rehab.

Accessibility with the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation

The Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation (TMPF) strives to combat physical, economic, and gender-based barriers to the outdoors. TMPF’s largest project is the restoration of Rosewood Nature Study Area, a 219-acre decommissioned golf course in the Hidden Valley area of Reno. Physical accessibility is of high priority when it comes to the restoration process of Rosewood. Currently, there are 3.05 miles of paved or well-maintained, compact dirt trails that span throughout the wetland. TMPF plans on installing a flat boardwalk to increase the trail network to 5 miles. The boardwalk will be accessible for wheelchairs, GRIT Freedom chairs, and other adaptive equipment. Outdoor learning classrooms and stopping points such as the pollinator garden path and gazebo, fishing pond dock, and amphitheater will all be physically accessible after their construction as well.

TMPF has smaller projects throughout the Reno-Tahoe area that focus on increasing physical accessibility. One project, called the Tahoe Meadows Access Ramp, has a goal to install a ramp to reach the accessible boardwalk that extends into the Tahoe Meadows. Currently, the only way to access the pedestrian walkway is by descending a flight of stairs. TMPF is working with the US Forest Service, Nevada Department of Transportation, and the project committee to accomplish this. Additionally, TMPF is supporting the City of Reno by housing their Adaptive Cycling Center program at Rosewood Nature Study Area. This program began in 2008 by the City of Reno and is currently run by April Wolfe. The program allows users to rent adaptive equipment to take out on Rosewood’s trails, on the bike trail along Veterans Parkway, or transport the equipment to another park in the Reno area. 

Acadian Rehab also participates in the AMBUCS Reno-Sparks Chapter which provides children and adults adaptive Amtryke bikes at no-cost. Visit our website to contact us to learn more!  

Upcoming event: On Saturday, April 27, 2024 at 6:30pm, TMPF will be hosting an accessible hike at the Sparks Marina. Guest speaker Peter Axelson, Founder and Director of Beneficial Designs and author of Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access will explain the assessment process that is critical to making trails accessible. This event will highlight the intersection of accessibility and the outdoors, shining a light on perspectives and considerations that are critical for any outdoor enthusiast. 

Beyond physical accessibility, TMPF provides schools with 50.1% or more students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches with free environmental education programs. These programs are vital for low-income youth as the STEM workforce increases each year (NSF STEM Workforce Report). TMPF’s free environmental education model provides hands-on learning opportunities to low-income students to prepare them for a career in STEM. This early-age exposure will allow students to envision, change, and shape the structure of our world to a more sustainable one. 

Final thoughts

The conversation about accessibility in the outdoors does not end with physical obstacles. We must also enter the conversation of racial and economic inaccessibility that has left many people feeling unwelcome in outdoor spaces. We have communities that are being left out of conversations about policy changes and program planning. Advocacy and bringing attention to these issues predicates the real change we are striving to make, and will make, to change the outdoor lifestyle narrative. If you are interested in reading stories about outdoor accessibility from disability advocates, we recommend this post on The Wilderness Society

The Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation recognizes that we can do better and knows that our team does not have all the answers. We have blind spots and are constantly learning how to be better through our actions. If you have suggestions, feedback, or would like to have a conversation about environmental justice, we would be grateful to hear from you. Please contact us at to start a conversation. Thank you! DEI at TMPF


About the Authors

Brooke (she/her) is completing her orthotic residency at Acadian Rehab, Inc. here in Reno. She works with people of all ages from newborns to older individuals who may need orthotic intervention. Brooke spends her weekends and free time outside hiking, camping, or snowboarding in the winters.

Claire (she/her) is serving her second AmeriCorps term, but first VISTA term, with Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation. Claire grew up in Seattle, Washington but has since moved around the United States. She received her bachelor's in Geology with GIS and statistics minors from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. After school, Claire moved to Louisiana to do statistical machine learning and GIS analysis for the U.S. Geological Survey. Following this position, she found her way back to the west and settled in Incline Village, Nevada where she currently lives. In her freetime, she can be found climbing peaks throughout the Sierra Nevada and making art. 


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Apr 23
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great work … so much information here so that everyone can enjoy the outdoors!


Apr 22
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great work!! It’s so important to include a broad range of perspectives when it comes to outdoor recreation.



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