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Working in the Outdoor Industry as a Black Woman

I’ve been in the outdoor industry for almost seven years, and it has been harder than I ever thought it would be.

By: Angie Vasquez + Save to a List

Photo: Angie Vasquez

When I moved back to Orlando in 2015 from Las Vegas, I wanted to continue my hiking adventures but I had never hiked in Florida.

I began to research the trails in the area but felt a bit of anxiety about hiking alone, so I followed a couple of groups on Facebook so I could make friends. I never attended one meetup. Most of the groups were run by men; there weren’t many women in the groups and no people of color. I felt I didn’t fit in. I decided to start my own Meetup group, Angel’s Excursions.

Angel's Excursions and Girls Who Hike Florida

Girl's Who Hike Florida and Florida Trail Association, Trail Maintenance Work Party

I used Angel’s Excursions to learn from others about the trails in Florida. The group in the beginning mainly consisted of white men who taught me about wildlife, flora, fauna and the different ecosystems. I was grateful and excited to be outdoors, but where were the people who looked like me? The women and people of color?

As the group grew in members and I began to meet other women to hike and adventure with, it felt amazing but it wasn’t enough.

I wanted to do more, so I created the meetup group Girls Who Hike Florida to educate and empower women to get into the outdoors. I took women out on hikes throughout Florida and taught them what I’d learned. As the group gained popularity I was approached by the REI Outdoors and Outreach Coordinator, Ana who I am so grateful for. She invited me to one of the REI Coop garage sales to participate in a tabling event, and this is where my Outdoor Education journey began.

My experience teaching at REI

Teaching Outdoor Classes to Women at REI

I was asked by REI to teach hiking courses for women. The classes became so popular that men started to sign up for the women’s sessions. At first I didn’t mind, but when the white males came to the class, I felt it was more to critique me than to learn.

They’d sit in the front row and interrupt while I taught, attempting to correct me by mansplaining what they’d do for the subject I was presenting. It was annoying because I knew exactly what I was trying to convey to my female audience. I felt that because I was not only a woman but a Black woman, white men didn’t feel I was qualified enough to teach about hiking or the outdoors.

Eventually I asked we close the classes again to women-only sessions, because I felt uncomfortable.

Other organizations I am privileged to partner with are the Florida Trail Association, Florida State Parks, and the Girl Scouts, and even a few educators have invited me to schools to speak with their female students. I love talking to young girls and women about the outdoors and nature. It's very satisfying work.

A journey through Guide work

In 2018, a good friend suggested I take my knowledge and love of the outdoors to a different audience by working in the outdoor education industry at an adventure company. I put together an outdoor resume and began to apply at a few companies for seasonal work. Looking for guide work was exciting but quickly became stressful because I wasn’t receiving any callbacks. I started to become a bit discouraged but continued to look using the website Coolworks.

As I applied to these different organizations there was one thing I noticed, the makeup of the staff was not very diverse. I didn’t see many tour guides that were POC, especially people with Black heritage. I knew we were out there, but it kind of surprised me I was not seeing more color in the space.

Photo: Angie Vasquez

My first job was in Ketchikan, Alaska, as a hiking guide. The position was taking cruise ship tourists on short hikes teaching them of the history and culture of the temperate rainforest, the Native Alaskans, black bears and more. I loved it, and even though I was the only Black person on the staff, I felt very welcomed and accepted.

I remember the first time we had a group of South Koreans come for a tour as they were getting off the bus and a handful of them made a v-line towards me to touch my hair. I didn’t exactly know how to react. The driver asked me, “Did she just touch your hair?” I just laughed. I was a rare sighting, I guess. Nonetheless it was an amazing summer. Alaska is beautiful!

Where you can find me right now

This summer I am in Tennessee working as a tour guide, taking people through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Teaching guests all about the Appalachian Mountains, history of the Cherokee nation, the colonists, and my favorite, wildlife and the outdoors.

In the beginning I was uncomfortable talking about the difficulties the Cherokee went through because I’d say close to 90 percent of the guests are white, and I wasn’t sure how they’d react, but I realized it’s a story which needs to be told and who better to tell it than me.

Photo: Angie Vasquez

I consider myself to be not only an outdoor lover but also a storyteller. The Outdoor Education industry gives me the opportunity to travel and work seasonally teaching others while I'm temporarily passing through in my van. I feel I’m able to leave a positive mark on all those with whom I come in contact.

I want to help other POC who may want to work in the outdoor industry by showing them the steps to get into companies, but these organizations have to make a commitment to diversify their staff, because there are a ton of qualified applicants looking for someone to give them a chance.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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