Deliver Benefits to the Public

PNW scientists talk with women’s group about trails, walking, outdoors

WASHINGTON—On Oct. 20, the Pacific Northwest Research Station, in cooperation with the Washington Trails Association, hosted a workshop in Tacoma, Washington, with members of GirlTrek, an organization devoted to pioneering “a health movement for African-American women and girls grounded in civil rights history and principles through walking campaigns, community leadership and health advocacy.” This was the second of two workshops with GirlTrek, which is devoted to organized walking as a practical first step to inspiring healthy living, families and communities.

Group photo, workshop participants.
Participants in the Pacific Northwest Research Station, Washington Trails Association and GirlTrek workshop. The workshop focused on the importance of increased recreational access, barriers to access and how to increase conversation around outdoor access. Photo courtesy Trina Baker, GirlTrek.

The workshop was designed to develop new community relationships with the trails association and GirlTrek and to learn more about the benefits of walking groups as well as barriers and opportunities for connecting women of color to the outdoors. The station also sought to test some new strategies for engaging people in conversations about the outdoors.

Seven GirlTrekkers joined facilitators Lee Cerveny and Monika Derrien of the station’s Goods, Services and Values program to talk about walking, trails, safety and why these outdoor community-oriented experiences are meaningful. GirlTrekkers identified community support/connections (sisterhood) and exercise as the most important benefits of participating in GirlTrek-led walks. Additional benefits included finding opportunities for peace and calm and the joy of trying new experiences and accessing new locations.

The group met for a 40-minute trail walk at Swan Creek Park and then gathered at an adjacent community center to discuss motivations to walk, barriers to accessing parks and public lands, and ways to expand and improve opportunities to participate in outdoor activities and access outdoor environments.

Participants then did a mapping activity, identifying trails and parks they have walked at in the past and Pierce County sites they hope to visit in the future. These maps provided a great deal of inspiration to GirlTrek organizers, who talked about ways to expand the group’s walking repertoire. 

Next, participants were given a stack of 34 cards featuring trail walk characteristics, such as “access to transit,” “gradual terrain,” “opportunities to see wildlife.” Each participant sorted the cards into four categories: “essential,” “nice to have,’ “doesn’t matter” and “avoid.” The primary characteristics that were “essential” included safety, well-lit areas, good cellular coverage, the presence of others and convenient locations. Characteristics of places that were most avoided were those that required fees or passes and areas with busy intersections. 

The group held a robust conversation about the importance of accessible information about what to expect on new walks and hikes. Accessible information can encourage or discourage someone from seeking out a new trail. Group members also talked about the motivating factor of organized walks and having others with whom to walk. 

The discussion closed with an affinity mapping exercise. During the walk at Swan Creek, the group stopped in a meadow for walkers to record their feelings on adhesive notepads. For the affinity mapping exercise, GirlTrek members affixed the notes to the wall and clustered them based on similarity. The largest clusters included feelings of happiness and calm while out on the Swan Creek trail, as well as friendship and community.

Organizers from GirlTrek, WTA and the Forest Service all agreed that this focus group brought out a great energy, confirmed many intuitions that organizers already held about why people walk, and built a strong foundation for an ongoing relationship among the three groups. For more information about GirlTrek, please visit the organization's website.

The workshop in Tacoma was the season’s last in a series that included a Seattle workshop with GirlTrekkers in August, participation in organized walks throughout the summer, interviews with walk leaders and a table event at the Refuge Outdoors Festival in September.

A line of women hiking down a forest trail.
A recent GirlTrek hike in Swan Creek Park, part of the Tacoma workshop.. Photo courtesy Trina Baker, GirlTrek.