African-Americans and Hispanics are Vastly Underrepresented on America’s Hiking Trails
“America’s hiking trails cast the widest possible net in terms of its participants,” I wrote in Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. An astounding, but true, statistic is that between 3,000,000 and 4,000, 000 hikers per year step foot on the Appalachian Trail, for hikes of varying length and duration.
That is all indeed good news. For the most part, the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails are widely represented in terms of region, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, income levels, etc. But there is a glaring exception to this. Race.
Race. Damn race. African-Americans and Latinos are fully 27% of America’s population. Yet, my best guess is they represent about 1-2% of the population of long-distance hikers. Why is that?
History is probably the best explanation. African-American history began as slaves, mainly in low-lying coastal and agricultural areas, with later large-scale migration to urban centers. Latinos have long history as migrant farmworkers, with later gravitation to service jobs in big cities. Thus neither ethnic group has extensive history in mountainous areas where these hiking trails tend to run. There is also the basic matter of economics. While long-distance hiking is certainly not a ritzy endeavor, there are, nonetheless, not insubstantial startup costs before undertaking a journey of any length.
This underrepresentation of these two minority groups is very regrettable for the simple reason that long-distance hiking is so often a great unifier. “I never felt so comfortable in my entire life,” one gay hiker wrote about his time on the Pacific Crest Trail. Indeed, when you are engaged in such a significant struggle superfluous factors such as race and sexual orientation become laughably irrelevant.
It would be nice to remedy this situation. But given that the root causes run so deep, it obviously will not be easy. Anyone with ideas to increase minority participation on America’s hiking trails, I strongly urge to step forward. And please remember the immortal words of St. Augustine–‘Solvitur ambulando’ (Walking solves all’)
Bill Walker is the author of Skywalker–Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail, as well as Skywalker–Highs and Lows on the Pacific Crest Trail. Walker, who is nearly 7-feet tall, is currently working on a book on the subject of height.