When Patricia Cameron hiked the Colorado Trail this summer, she saw few people of color around her. That’s something she’s looking to change as she strives for a more equitable outdoors.
Cameron is the founder and executive director of Blackpackers, a nonprofit aiming to bridge the outdoor rec representation gap.
“We work to create economic equity in outdoor recreation,” she said. “We meet those who are at the intersection of underrepresentation and economic vulnerability.”
Cameron was born in Prince George’s County, Maryland, but moved with her mother to Colorado in 1994. A student of philosophy at UCCS, she also earned a degree in emergency medical services at Pikes Peak Community College.
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 and is now the community outreach coordinator at Mountain Equipment Recyclers. She 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.
“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 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.”
Blackpackers, founded in 2019, now provides gear, outdoor excursions and education free or at a reduced cost. The organization also strives to connect participants with volunteer opportunities, internships, jobs and post-secondary education resources to create an employment pipeline.
When she walked the trail this summer, Cameron said, the trip gave her a new sense of confidence.
“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,” she said.
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.”
Blackpackers doesn’t just serve those who are Black; it serves anyone who can’t afford to go outdoors themselves and who needs outdoor education. On the Colorado Trail, Cameron said she saw many different people in local communities and wondered if there is a way she can help them.
“I came back and I bought a rooftop tent for my car, and I’m hoping to make Blackpackers a statewide organization,” she said.
To learn more, visit coblackpackers.com.