What makes the Towpath Trail and the Ohio & Erie Canalway special are the people who live and play on the trails every day. Today, we celebrate two amazing women from Akron, Kimberly Young and Bronlynn Thurman, and the community organization that was inspired by a need for inclusion in natural and recreational spaces.
Tell us about you and your relationship with nature, hiking, and exploring.
Kimberly: Due to COVID-19, I am a recovering socialite and a new nature lover. I was an admitted “city chick” who didn’t do anything in nature unless it involved sitting on the patio with either food or a refreshing beverage. Prior to COVID, I spent most of my time indoors working and attending events. During quarantine, I found time to be still and enjoy the outdoors. I started walking in my neighborhood and the great parks here in Summit County.
Bronlynn: I’m a nature lover. I’ve always loved the water, but I didn’t grow up going to parks. It wasn’t until my early 20’s when I discovered the Summit Metro Parks. From that moment on, they were my refuge. I could go out into the parks and immediately feel at peace. I love discovering new-to-me parks, and I would blog about my experience hoping others would get excited about them, too. I’ve recently started to branch out to our national park system. I just got back from Acadia, and it’s quite lovely.
How did Black Women Explore come to be?
Kimberly: During the COVID quarantine, I noticed lots of my Black and Brown friends enjoying the outdoors, especially women. This wasn’t something I typically saw. Historically, outdoor spaces are not very welcoming to people of color or there is a stereotype that people of color do not enjoy the outdoors. Seeing my friends enjoying the outdoors and my newfound love of the outdoors sparked my interest in starting a group for Black and Brown women who love the outdoors. It would provide a safe space for us to gather and explore together, and the idea was put into action after presenting it to Bronlynn.
Bronlynn: Kim and I were talking one day and she threw the idea out there. It was something that had been sitting in the back of my mind, but I just never let it get beyond the idea stage. Kim really lit the fire under it. I’ve been learning a lot about the historic exclusion of Black and Brown people in the recreation space and because of that, I knew that oftentimes people just don’t feel welcomed or feel like it was also for them. This was an opportunity for us to really push at that narrative and provide an environment where Black and Brown women see themselves out on adventures.
What do you hope for the future of Black Women Explore?
Kimberly: I hope that Black Women Explore continues to grow and thrive and help expose more black and brown women to the great outdoors. I hope that women and girls of all ages partake in the activities. I hope to see more women of color enjoying and exploring nature.
Bronlynn: I want to echo Kim. My dream is for this group to be that invitation that opens doors for Black and Brown women to enjoy the outdoors. But I would also love for this to be a space for women to just meet others who aren’t a part of their usual crowd. Further down the road, I would love to expand into things like kayaking, biking, etc. We’re already trying to incorporate a lot of great events that are being planned by organizations like Downtown Akron Partnership, Summit Metro Parks, and CVNP.
Where is your favorite spot along the Towpath Trail?
Kimberly: This is a tough question! I enjoy Summit Lake and Indigo Lake. I gravitate to both areas when I need to find peace. I call both my “Happy Place”
Bronlynn: My favorite would have to be either the Beaver Marsh area or Summit Lake. I love the water and both are just stunning areas. I plan to ride the Towpath up to Cleveland this summer so I may add a few favorites later this year.
What is your favorite outdoor activity?
Kimberly: My favorite outdoor activity would be either hiking or outdoor yoga. Yoga outdoors really grounds you and helps center you. It is the perfect spot to practice.
Bronlynn: You’re making me choose just one?! I can’t do that. Hiking will always be my first love, but I’ve gotten into biking over the last few years and I love putting 20 or 30 miles in on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon. You can’t beat the scenery, especially heading south from Downtown Akron.
Please add anything else you'd like to share.
Bronlynn: I think the only thing I’d like to share is that it’s important to be intentional when you’re trying to include historically excluded people in programming or engaging them in spaces. If you’re not intentional, what you think is inclusive may fall significantly short. Including people with whom you hope to build a relationship in the planning process is one way to help avoid that.
Kimberly: Ditto everything Bronlynn stated. Intentionality is key.