Out & Back: Chelsea Murphy encourages women of color to get outside

The founder of She Colors Nature fell for the outdoors after moving to Leavenworth. Now she’s instilling that love in her daughters' generation.

There was a time when Chelsea Murphy didn’t believe the outdoors was for her. She did go camping while growing up in Tacoma, but she says now that she always carried into those outings a sense that somehow she was out of place. It wasn’t until after the birth of her first daughter and a move to Leavenworth, where she was surrounded by mountains, that she felt herself being called to get outside. A friend invited her on a hike, and everything changed; she felt a deep pull and connection to the outdoors, and finally a sense that she did belong.

Murphy very quickly recognized that her internal feelings of belonging did not match the representation she saw on hikes — or on social media or brand campaigns, which were dominated by white faces. She started to wonder how she might be able to do something about it. She began inviting more people like her into spaces she loved. She built an online community, She Colors Nature, and dedicated her life to building a more racially inclusive and equitable outdoors. 

According to a recent 10-year survey by the National Parks Service, just 23% of park visitors were people of color, despite being 42% of the U.S. population. Data from the U.S. Forest Service are even bleaker: Black people, about 13% of the population, accounted for only about 1% of national forest visits in 2010.

From her online advocacy to partnerships with major outdoor brands and retailers and her role as a producer for Brave Space Media, Murphy is hoping her work has a direct impact on those statistics, rewriting the narrative of what it means to be “outdoorsy” and making the outdoors a place of belonging for all BIPOC.  

A key part of Murphy’s relationship with nature is how she shares it with her family, specifically her two young Black girls, with whom she pledges to get outdoors at least 30 minutes every day. Her girls are growing up knowing that they belong, and helping to reclaim the outdoors for the next generation of Black hikers.

In this episode, I visit Murphy at her home in Leavenworth, then hike with her two daughters, witnessing first-hand just how much joy the outdoors brings her family.

For more from this episode, listen to the Out & Back podcast. You can find it on SpotifyApple Podcasts, Amazon or wherever you get your podcasts.

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