“Get outside!” Minority Outdoor Alliance leader inspires Young Conservation Stewards

One of ALT’s core aims is to protect land with conservation easements. We’ve been successful, preserving more than 20,000 acres across Georgia. These protected acres contribute health and ecosystem benefits to the broader community. But many Black, Brown, and low-wealth people don’t experience these benefits as often. ALT’s Young Conservation Stewards program (YCS) was created to address this. The program trains youth from these backgrounds in the skills to become environmental stewards in their own communities by introducing them to the conservation field.

The summer YCS term started with an emphasis on sharing the benefits of the outdoors more equitably: participants heard from educator, artist, and sportsman Durrell Smith.

As a boy in Atlanta, Smith “…grew up thinking certain spaces were for certain people.” He says this mindset can be as great a barrier as the structural barriers that have resulted in more limited access to outdoor spaces for people of color.

Smith’s passion for the outdoors, grown from hunting and fishing with his grandfather and an introduction to a group of Atlanta-area Black horsemen, has led him to bird dog handling, a profession with a rich, complex history rooted in Southern quail plantation culture.

In 2020, Smith and his wife Ashley founded the Minority Outdoor Alliance, with the mission of “cultivating inclusivity for a healthier outside.” When Durrell gave the YCS a lesson in bird dog handling, he introduced them to a unique outdoor experience that also showed them how breaking down their own internal barriers in the face of a new experience is an important part of interacting with the dogs in nature.

In addition to conservation knowledge, YCS Crew Leader Bo Roddis hopes the YCS develop an emotional attachment to the outdoors. “You don’t have to farm, fish or hunt to have a connection to the natural world.”

Smith – who sits on ALT’s Conservation Committee, which brings recommendations from conservation professionals to ALT’s Board of Directors – sees investing in kids as a way to plant seeds for the long-term benefits of conservation practices. “We’re manifesting something new…and doing it for the future.”