When she moved to Colorado Springs from the Washington, D.C., area with her mother in 1994, then-eleven-year-old Patricia Cameron looked up at Pikes Peak and wondered if she’d ever get to the top.
“I grew up without any experience in the outdoors,” Cameron says. But in middle school, while participating in a mentoring and education program for at-risk girls, she got to go to Camp Shady Brook in Deckers, which is run by the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region. “It was my first real experience doing Colorado-type nature, and I had a bug for it,” she says. “But I couldn’t afford it.”
All kinds of obstacles block access to the great outdoors. “Everybody has their own particular thing they’re looking at,” Cameron explains. “For me, it’s the economic portion.”
Pointing to the multi-generational wealth gap between white and Black families, she adds, “Capitalism and racism go hand in hand. Once you put a price on the outdoors, there’s somebody who can’t reach it, oftentimes a person of color.”
Colorado Outward Bound School, which has been leading programs in the wilderness for almost sixty years, in recent years has recognized the barriers to accessing nature; it's now offering shorter trips and scholarship programs. The Denver Parks and Recreation Department, too, is working on making outdoors accessible, as detailed in our current cover story, "Out of the Woods."
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After college at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs and George Washington University, Cameron became an EMT. She worked overtime to save up for used gear, and finally had the assets she needed in order to backpack through the Colorado wilderness. In fact, she recently embarked on a hike across the Colorado Trail, a 486-mile path stretching from the mouth of Waterton Canyon in Denver to Durango.
Recognizing the transformative power of nature — and wanting other people of color to be able to experience it, too — Cameron founded Blackpackers in 2019, two dozen years after she first saw Pikes Peak. Through her small Colorado Springs nonprofit, Cameron has led four overnight campouts for a multi-generational demographic. All participants received full or partial scholarships, and transportation, food, gear, tents and sleeping bags were provided.
In addition to offering camping trips, her organization engages the local Black community in activities such as hiking, canoeing and even a nature-based book club.
So far, Blackpackers hasn’t climbed Pikes Peak...but it’s only a matter of time.