Give! 2020: Blackpackers Break Barriers

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COLORADO SPRINGS — A day on the trail is one way to clear the mind, but Patricia Cameron has found that getting there can clear out a wallet as well.

Moving to Colorado Springs from the East Coast in 1994, she found the mountains that were just a few miles away remained out of reach.

“I didn’t go out a lot. My mother was a single mother for one, but we really couldn’t afford it.” Cameron said, “The mountains were so close, but we never got a chance to go.”

Eventually, she was brought on mountain road trips, backpacking excursions, day hikes, and nights out camping in the wilderness. It hooked her right away.

“The mountains kind of change you. Once you get out there and start hiking them and spending time in them, you kind of get addicted to it,” voiced Cameron.

Her obsession hit its peak this summer when she trekked through the 485 miles from Littleton to Durango on the Colorado Trail.

But with pricey sleeping bags, tents in the hundreds of dollars, and hiking boots just the same— she found the same barriers of financial access and insecurity about experience stopped her friends from enjoying the things that she so quickly fell in love with.

Then, the lack of diversity in Colorado’s wild spaces jumped out to her as well. It’s something she had noticed a number of places as a black woman, but when it came to the outdoors, she felt she could make a change.

“When I went out, I noticed a lot of the participants didn’t look like me. That can be uncomfortable if you’re the only person who looks like you in a group,” Cameron said.

She started with what, or who, she could control. She would buy equipment and gear for her friends that said they couldn’t afford it and showed the way to those worried they didn’t know enough about how to camp, fish, ski, climb, or any number of outdoor activities.

Cameron works part-time at Mountain Equipment Recyclers in Old Colorado City because she enjoys finding deals on new and used equipment for people just getting started.

However, she quickly found that continuing to collect gear for her friends wasn’t financially sustainable, so she turned her hobby into a career of sorts—founding Blackpackers in 2019. This past February, they were approved as a 501(c)(3) charity for the work they do.

“We meet those who are at the intersection of under-representation and economic vulnerability,” Cameron described, “We don’t have much overhead at this point since we just started so, all of the money goes directly into paying for the gear, paying for the transportation, paying for licenses for people, and paying for education to get people out there.”

They have gear lockers for people to borrow from and provide the equipment to match the activity they bring people on. They’ve gone on cabin trips with dozens of people at Camp Shady Brook in Deckers, gone skiing, as well as camping and fishing with dozens more at Eleven Mile State Park.

Anyone is invited, no matter of ethnicity or background, but Cameron’s purpose in bringing people with limited experience but similar circumstances together in the outdoors she has seen as successful so far.

“When you’re comfortable with your surroundings and the people, you’re more open to the outdoors and the experience. Once you break away for the most part and you’re not worried about that, and you’re not worried about being the only person that looks like you, or not feeling out of place, all of the sudden, the outdoors opens itself up to you in a way that it hasn’t before, and I think people get more from those experiences because they have less to worry about,” she said.

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