The Colorado Springs Business Journal, sister paper of the Express, recognized 15 women this year with the Women of Influence award program. Meet two of those women who are involved in Southeast: Patricia Cameron and Yolanda Avila.
When Patricia Cameron hiked the Colorado Trail this summer, she saw few people of color on the trail with her. That’s something she’s looking to change as she raises awareness for a more equitable outdoors.
Cameron is the founder and executive director of Blackpackers, a nonprofit organization that aims to bridge the gap in representation in the outdoors.
“We work to create economic equity in outdoor recreation. We meet those who are at the intersection of underrepresentation and economic vulnerability,” she said.
Before establishing Blackpackers, Cameron served as an EMT and then as a practice manager at clinics in Colorado Springs and the Denver area. She has also served as a volunteer firefighter. She’s now the community outreach coordinator at Mountain Equipment Recyclers, and also works as a freelance writer and photographer.
As an adult, Cameron realized that other people — primarily white people — grew up in families that took them hiking and camping, and they had a knowledge of the outdoors she did not possess.
“Growing up on the Southeast side of Colorado Springs, I spent every day walking to school and I saw the mountains, but I never got to experience them,” she said.
About three years ago, she decided to change that. She bought gear and searched online how to backpack. She also taught herself how to fish. She started asking friends to go hiking or camping with her and she heard the same responses every time.
“They would say, ‘I’m not going out in [the] woods,’ or ‘I’m not going because I don’t have gear.’ I decided to conquer that by saying ‘We’ll all go as a group, so you won’t be alone — and I’ll get your gear,’” Cameron recalled. “So I started buying gear for everybody. Then I established an LLC and then I turned it into a nonprofit.”
When she walked the trail this summer, Cameron came in with limited backpacking experience, but the trip gave her a new sense of confidence.
“The confidence it gave me after that trip to just put one foot in front of the other and the connection with nature is huge,” she said. “The health benefits that go with the outdoors are huge; the mental health benefits are huge. There’s also a self-esteem boost that comes with being able to go outdoors.”
Cameron said she loves taking others on their first camping trip and enjoys seeing how they learn and grow from the experience.
“A lot of times, they walk into the experience convinced that a bear or a mountain lion is going to walk right up to them. I love when they wake up the next day and realize they didn’t get attacked by a bear,” she said. “You’ll see almost a cockiness to them. There’s a transformation that happens overnight when they realize they can do this.”