We tend to think of nature as a place for everyone. Indeed, Vermont’s lush forests, sparkling lakes, and snow-capped mountains don’t judge us by our race, gender, income, or disability status. But to believe that nature is immune to the issues that plague the rest of our society is to ignore the lived experiences of countless Vermonters and people around the world who feel they don’t belong in natural spaces, whether on public or private land. For underserved communities, visible and invisible barriers to nature compound the disproportionate mental and physical health burdens they already bear. A recent study by the University of Vermont, for example, found that land conversion trends over the coming decades will cause several benefits of nature, including air quality, crop pollination, and control of insect-borne diseases, to decrease dramatically for communities of color, while increasing for white communities. In order to spark dialogue around this issue, Audubon Vermont has invited five Vermont-based environmental leaders to speak openly and honestly about their efforts to improve access to nature for all—and their ideas for a more equitable future. Join us on December 1st from 5:00-6:30 pm to engage in bold conversation about the challenges, potential solutions, and necessary next steps to securing the profound benefits of nature for underserved populations in Vermont and beyond.Panelist:
Elise Chan (she/her) is a geology major at Middlebury College and the president of Fostering Inclusive Recreation Experiences (FIRE), a student organization that runs outdoor trips led by and for students of color. She leads trips of many disciplines for FIRE, including hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing. She is from Seattle, Washington, where she volunteers as a search and rescue responder in the central Cascades.
Abby Crisostomo (she/her) is the co-founder of Unlikely Riders and an ambassador for Voile Backcountry Manufacturing. Abby started snowboarding in elementary school through a subsidized afterschool program in the Upper Valley. This program shaped the course of her life, and she now spends her time advocating for her community and sharing her love for snowsports with systematically excluded people in so-called ‘Vermont’.
Alex Hilliard (they/them) is a personal trainer and small business owner at VT AthletaFit, and social justice advocate. Alex draws many links to outdoor recreation in their community, such as by competing year-round in trail races, partnering with Come Alive Outside in the Rutland region, and by participating on a Poultney steering committee aiming to connect the natural areas and trails to its downtown. As a BIPOC individual living in Vermont for 14 years, they are keenly aware of issues of equity and inclusion. They use their platform as a business owner, on committees across the state, and as an athlete to try to acknowledge ways in which Vermont falls short in supporting marginalized identities, and to drive practical, people-oriented solutions that improve the state for all Vermonters.
Justin Marsh (they/them) is the political outreach director at Vermont Conservation Voters. In 2020, as chair of Cambridge Conservation Commission, they were instrumental in the conservation of 51 acres of land now known as the Peter A. Krusch Nature Preserve. Justin is a frequent co-host of Audubon Vermont's Pride Hikes series (find upcoming hikes here!). They reside in Cambridge on their family's farm and sugar bush.
Jamie Perron (she/her) has been a quadriplegic for over 20 years after being hit by a car when she was 19. She normally uses a power wheelchair to get around but loves to get out of the wheelchair to go kayaking. She especially loves seeing birds and other wildlife while kayaking. Jamie kayaks every year with the Northeast Disabled Athletic Association’s Adaptive Kayaking Program, which helps people with a wide range of disabilities get out on the water. She would love to see more of Vermont’s lakes, reservoirs, and ponds have better access for kayaks, and trails be more accessible for wheelchairs.