A New Chapter for Outings

by Emily Pinkowitz, Director of Education

In 2019, Bird Alliance of Oregon hosted over 250 free outings and walks, welcoming more than 4,000 people to enjoy birding and nature together. Led by a core group of dedicated volunteers that includes some of the best birders in the state, our outings have always been a signature piece of the work that we do. They reflect so many of our deepest values: community, shared learning, public access, and grassroots action.

A group of people on bikes are looking through binoculars.
Biking and birding, photo by Tara Lemezis

Early in the pandemic, one of our most difficult calls was to cancel the annual Bird Song Walks, which typically mark the shifting spring migration with over 40 hours of free public walks from April to May. Since then, we have opted to keep our outings program dormant as we adjusted to the ever-evolving landscape of the pandemic. This fall, we are delighted to share that a dedicated core group of Outings Volunteers will begin leading outings again, with strict COVID protocols in place that we are confident will keep participants safe while enabling us to enjoy one another’s company together again.

This dormancy period has also given us the opportunity to think creatively and aspirationally about the future of our outings program with a particular focus on racial equity and access. Vital feedback from some staff of color has challenged us to think critically about the subtle ways in which these programs send signals about who is truly welcomed—from the locations that we select, to the leaders that we train, to the narratives that we prioritize on walks. Staff with disabilities have challenged us to think more intentionally about the ways that we make space for people with disabilities to fully participate in these programs. Collectively, this period has galvanized us to recognize the limits of a “free price tag” alone in promoting a truly inclusive experience.

As we relaunch the program this fall, the Adult Education team will simultaneously be applying our organizational Equity Lens to reflect on and restructure the program. Over the next six months, we will be exploring the way that we recruit leaders and the training that we provide, the sites that we select and the histories and stories that we elevate. We will also be looking closely at the way in which the public learns about and participates in these programs: Are we ensuring that these experiences are available and accessible to all? Are there critical barriers, such as technology, language, transportation, or access to gear that limit who joins us?

Photo by Tara Lemezis

Volunteer Outings Leaders will be a vital part of this evolution, sharing their lived experience and participating in a robust new training that includes workshops on diversity, equity and inclusion, accessibility, traditional ecological knowledge, and more. We are so grateful to this incredible team for joining us on this journey, and we are excited to discover together new ways in which our outings can evolve to even more fully embody our values in the coming year.

We look forward to welcoming you all on outings beginning in mid-September. For alerts about upcoming walks, sign up for Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Meet Up (Meetup.com, group name Bird Alliance of Oregon Outings) or check our website.