By Dakota Kim

Tiffany Tharpe, 31, started hiking to help battle depression and spend more time outdoors. “It was through hiking that I found that nature has a healing aspect to it,” she says. “To this day, when I’m feeling down, I go outside to reflect.”

While finishing the 52 Hike Challenge in 2017, Tharpe, who works as a veterinary assistant in Los Angeles, noticed that the further she went from L.A., the fewer hikers of color she saw on the trails. On a hunch that others might crave an outdoors community the way she did, she started an Instagram profile for Black women hikers. In her twenties at the time and busy with work, she decided to devote time to documenting her hikes — and to post them on her profile, Black Girls Trekkin. Tharpe’s friend Michelle Warren, a program manager and fellow avid hiker, joined her in sharing the responsibilities for leading the group.

“We use ‘trek’ both in terms of a challenging hike or journey, but also in terms of dealing with challenges that we face as Black women,” Tharpe says. “We are striving to show that Black women are a clear, present and strong force in the outdoors.” Exploring the different ecosystems across L.A., Tharpe hit Malibu for beach hikes, the mountains for waterfalls, snowy spots for winter outdoors play and Joshua Tree for the renewal of the desert — posting about all of it, of course.

Tharpe says she had no plans to lead in-person hikes until the social media requests flooded her account, but that’s exactly what happened. She talked to Warren, and the two decided to bring the group offline. Over the next few years, the initial desire to unite Black women hikers grew into larger goals: promoting outdoor equity and the creation of safe spaces. As of today, the two — who run BGT in addition to their day jobs — have hosted almost 100 hikes and 20 events, and the Instagram page has become a community of more than 36,000 people. There’s now a TikTok too.

“I am always astonished about how much we have grown,” Tharpe says. “It started as just Michelle and I doing this and thinking maybe a few people would be interested, to us now having four amazing adventure leads who volunteer to lead our group events and a great board, along with a supportive community.”

Tharpe and Warren, who is also 31, won BGT its 501(c)3 nonprofit status in September 2021, and now host periodic hikes and partner hiking events, collaborating with Latino Outdoors, Unlikely Hikers and Black Men Hike LA. “It brings me joy to continue to build our relationships with these groups and provide a safe space for multiple people in the BIPOC community,” Tharpe says.

Tharpe says that icebreakers and intention-setting are crucial to community development at their hikes. At the start of each outdoor event, BGT leaders introduce themselves, and then everyone in the circle shares their preferred names and pronouns. The icebreaker can be simple, like naming a favorite ice cream flavor or safari animal, but once the ice is broken, supporting one another on the hike becomes easier. “It really is a supportive environment where people are hyping one another up, and when we get to the top, we’re all so proud of what we all have accomplished,” says Tharpe. “I think what’s always been important is that we make our space feel safe enough that people want to continue to come back.”

BGT will soon be hosting its first out-of-state trip to Zion National Park. It’s a four-day, three-night campout that Tharpe says will host attendees from several states. It’s the first step toward expanding the BGT presence across the country, Tharpe tells me. “We would love to see our community grow into something nationwide and be able to host hikes throughout the country, and maybe even go international,” she says.

The group practices LNT (leave no trace) principles when out on the trails and organizes trail cleanups. They’ve participated in the Great LA River Cleanup, and most BGT leaders, Tharpe says, carry trash bags when hiking to grab loose trash from the trail when they can. BGT is also conscious of providing camping opportunities to those who can’t always afford it. For the Zion trip, two campers will have their tickets and gear sponsored by women’s outdoor clothing brand Wondery.

See Original Article at Los Angeles Times