The outdoors are for everyone. Yet, even as a growing body of medical research shows that spending time in the outdoors is good for our physical, and mental health, some members of our community face barriers to access. These barriers can include factors such as physical ability, mental health, income, access to transportation, family status, race, cultural background, gender, and gender identity.
On July 8th, Five Valleys hosted the webinar panel discussion, "Voices from the Community: Why Access, Equity and Inclusion Matter." The program brought together diverse voices around a common theme: access to the outdoors. During the discussion, panelist community members shared examples of barriers to access they had personally faced in their lives, and shared their ideas for ways to make the outdoors more accessible. Get inspired to make the outdoors more welcoming and inclusive for more people by watching the recording below.
Moderator Donna Gaukler
Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
As Director of Missoula Parks and Recreation, Donna has guided the Missoula community in the development and adoption of several land use and management plans, and improvements ranging from neighborhood parks to regional pathways, and conservation lands to water parks. Partnerships, empowerment, inclusion, and engagement are what Donna views as the keys to the Department’s success. Understanding the benefits Parks and Recreation brings to our individual residents, our community, and our place through stewardship, are critical to maximizing our shared potential. Donna notes her passion to be in the area of social science with an emphasis on engaging all populations in healthy lifestyles and outdoor play. Through play, we grow. In community, we thrive.
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Chris was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and served as Peer Advocacy Coordinator with Summit Independent Living. His prior experience included work in the fields of assistive technology, employment, and as a high school English teacher. He enjoyed outdoor recreation his whole life and valued his connection with the outdoors as well as the mental health benefits it provides. He believed that time in the outdoors and on trails gives us all opportunities to relate to nature and to each other—experiences that should be accessible by everyone.
Chris passed away in the spring of 2021. Five Valleys, and our larger western Montana community, greatly miss his enthusiasm, partnership, and wonderful personality. Thank you, Chris, for helping to make our region more welcoming, accessible, and kind.
Ashley Ostheimer Hilliard
Preferred Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Ashley serves as Vice Chair of the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center Board of Directors and is an early childhood and family advocate having served in leadership and volunteer positions with Ravalli Early Head Start, Missoula Zero to Five Collaborative, Missoula Food Bank Lived Experience Voices and Leaders (LEVL) program, and Common Good Missoula (formerly Missoula Interfaith Collaborative). Now a Research Analyst with the University of Montana Center for Children, Families and Workforce Development, she focuses her research and writing to support systems change to improve health outcomes for children and families across Montana. She is a born and raised Bitterrooter who re-discovered the love of the outdoors in 2014 as a single mom to three young children and full-time student living in poverty. In the years that followed, family outdoor adventures were the simplest escape from day-to-day stresses. Now remarried, and with another kiddo in tow, she continues to find highlights in nature. She knows that the peace that her family now finds in the outdoors comes because she is privileged with transportation, ability, and means to easily explore the outdoors. She believes that it is important to listen to the needs of others in order to lift our most important, but often unheard, residents.
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Alex works in Racial Justice for EmpowerMT and YWCA Missoula and is a founding guide of BIPOC Outside (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). For Alex, the outdoors has provided him an essential place for recreation and challenging himself and he values the changing aspects of nature that reflect the importance of change in our lives. He works to reveal and address the systematic inequalities that black, indigenous, and people of color encounter on trails, in the outdoors and in outdoor industries because nature is important for everyone to be able to experience.
Tom McDonald is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and currently holds the administrative position of Division Manager for the Tribe’s Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Programs. The Division employs approximately 75 resource specialists and professionals for fish, wildlife and recreation management on the 1.3-million-acre Flathead Indian Reservation and within the aboriginal territory of the Tribes. Mr. McDonald has been employed the Tribes in various capacities for the past 38 years and possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in natural resource management from The Evergreen State College. His work experience varies from management of wild and prescribed fire, conducting fish and wildlife population surveys and restoration activities, writing recreation, wilderness and fish/wildlife management plans, and acquiring critical wildlife habitat and travel corridors on sensitive landscapes. Tom’s interests in the outdoors comes from his family’s history of the landscape, people, languages and the relationships between all living things.
The panel was the first event of a three-day Universal Trails and Outdoors for Everyone seminar. The July 9th-10th workshop brought together conservation and outdoor recreation professionals for a two-day course on universal access and modern trail design, led by national universal trails expert Larry Knutson of Penn Trails.
The Universal Trails and Outdoors for Everyone panel and workshop was made possible by funding from the Land Trust Alliance and the Montana Association of Land Trusts, and was organized in partnership with Lisa Bickell of Field to Frame Interpretive Planning and Design.
Header photo of the universal access trail at the Rock Creek Confluence by Jahrig Media