Diversity Outdoors, Part 2

July 23, 2020

Dear Riveredge Family,

We promised to keep you updated on our work in decreasing systemic barriers for communities of color when accessing the outdoors. 

Since sharing our last reflections with you, we’ve had friends of Riveredge ask us to communicate the work we are already, and have been, engaged in to ensure access to Riveredge for communities throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Others have asked us to clarify our position. We have appreciated hearing all of these comments. Our intent is always to be transparent, honest, and work to build bridges, through nature, within our communities. 

Riveredge supports our local communities and values our strong partnerships with a wide variety of organizations, municipalities, institutions, and community members. We are grateful for the dedicated work of our local police and county sheriff departments, and thankful for all they do to serve not only Riveredge but all of our neighbors and communities.  

Our mission-based work on better serving diverse audiences is centered around equitable access to the natural world. Access which currently has many barriers for communities of color.  We are working to identify and address these barriers at Riveredge. 

For more than 20 years, Riveredge has been involved in transformative partnerships to provide access to many urban Milwaukee schools for learning, engagement, and exploration. Through several different partnerships, over 1,500 students in 65+ different classes come to Riveredge each year. As with other school partnerships, students engage in inquiry and science-based learning explorations in the prairies, forests, and rivers. 

One of the many goals of these partnerships is to help people develop a broader sense of community and sense of place through immersive experiences in the fully restored natural world at Riveredge. Exploring the Milwaukee River and natural world in a non-urban setting and comparing these observations to those in an urban setting leads to further learning in multiple subject areas. In fact, one of our goals at Riveredge is to also develop partnerships with rural and suburban schools to support the same, yet reverse, experience for their students. The beauty of the Milwaukee River as it runs through an urban environment can be just as inspirational for students who have only been exposed to nature in less populated areas. Additionally, what is discovered downstream toward Lake Michigan is an accumulation of everything that makes its way into a river upstream.  The parallels between learning about nature in both urban and rural environments can help us all draw better understandings about commonalities in our urban and rural communities. 

Partnerships have been fundamental at Riveredge to better serve populations who have barriers to accessing nature. Our partnership with the Ozaukee County Aging & Disability Resource Center has resulted in a nature-based “Memory Cafe” for individuals with memory challenges and their caregivers. This program  has introduced time in nature as a healing tool for this community. Similarly, we were elated when Access Ability Wisconsin reached out to us to place an all-terrain wheelchair at Riveredge so that all people, regardless of physical ability, could access the beauty and adventure of the 10-miles of trails at Riveredge. Both of these partnerships have provided more equitable access to nature for many people at Riveredge.

Our pledge to do better in providing equitable access to Riveredge for communities of color is a further step along this path of our diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Specifically, we are currently….

  • Making plans for an organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion audit to help us better understand the current environment at Riveredge and our strengths and opportunities for improvement in this area. We are hoping to continue our work with Cream City Conservation on this effort and are currently seeking funding to support the implementation of this audit.
  • Pursuing regional discussions about how the Milwaukee River can be used as a conduit to address the urban – rural divide in southeastern Wisconsin. As an organization which strives to connect our communities to the Milwaukee River Watershed, we believe the work to use this natural resource as a figurative and literal connection between communities can be enhanced and further developed.
  • Seeking meaningful partnerships with other organizations to better serve communities of color both at Riveredge and through programming efforts within the communities of southeastern Wisconsin. Just as with all of Riveredge’s significant efforts, true partnerships create greater impact. We do not pretend to be experts in this area, yet we look forward to discovering ways that the beauty, inspiration, and education at Riveredge can be better shared within our communities. 
  • Identifying ways to further our education about diversity, equity and inclusion topics for our staff and Board of Directors team. Education is an ongoing process, and we pledge to continue this journey in the months and years to come.

We can not do this work alone, and we can not do it effectively without working with others. We look forward to the months and years to come with optimism, opportunity, and hope, and inevitably some of this process will be a struggle. We strive to continue the work of better serving our community through the act of listening, dialog, and relationship building. 

Thank you for being part of this Riveredge Family. Thank you for believing in the importance of the natural world and in the critical work to ensure it is accessible for everyone.

With Great Gratitude,

Jessica Jens, Executive Director


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