While building trails in Mt. Washington’s Emerald View Park several years ago, Nathaniel Broadus noticed some of his fellow African-American colleagues working in the park, but rarely using and enjoying its scenic trails.
The realization led him to organize monthly “Black-Packing Nature Excursions.”
Broadus tells 90.5 WESA’s Elaine Effort the goal is to get more people acquainted with the mental and physical benefits of hiking. They spoke for our series 90.5 WESA Celebrates: 90 Neighborhoods, 90 Good Stories.
Below are excerpts of their discussion.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Where Broadus got the idea for “blackpacking”:
One of the young men on my crew, I noticed he'd show up to work two hours early sometimes, or he would stay two hours after work out on the trail that we were working on.
So, one day I had to ask him, "What are you doing here? We're not paying you for this." And he said, you know, "It just makes me feel good to be out here. You know, to breathe this air."
So, I decided I want to see what that feels like. I'm a veteran. I know very much what PTSD feels like. I know very much what it feels like to be hypervigilant, to be angry. It was an awesome opportunity for me to go and see, like, alright this makes him feel good, maybe it can make me feel better.
I went out the next day, and I hung out on the trail and it was amazing. A few days later I reached out to my good friend Shannon, who talks a lot about mental health and the need for self-care. We framed the event that would become “Blackpacking.” What would it mean for us to get our friends together in this outdoor space and not have to worry about solving all the problems of the world? Or not worrying about having to fight against white supremacy and social injustices. What if we could just get together and talk about hiking?
Broadus on who is encouraged to come to “blackpacking” events:
We wanted to encourage people to know that you don't have to be in great shape to come blackpacking. Our trails go all the way from, you know, three-quarters of a mile to 5-mile hikes. But we always encourage everybody to know that, No. 1, the human body is capable of amazing things. Long after you get tired is your body still capable of going. No. 2—we're not here to break anybody's back, you know. We want to get out and have fun—we want this thing to be relaxed, and we want to be able to get to the end and say, "Man, I feel good."
So that's what it's really all about—making this as accessible for everybody as possible.
Broadus on the locations where he’s hosted “blackpacking” excursions:
We try to get all along the city. We really started out with Emerald View Park on Mt. Washington, because that really does have a lot of meaning to me. We just hiked a beautiful trail in Hazelwood. My co-founder, Shannon, planned this hike and took us out, and it was the most beautiful scenery you'll ever see. I had no idea there were parts of Pittsburgh that looked like this. Oh my goodness.
That's what Blackpacking is all about, is bringing us together in these spaces and creating that access.