I love New Years.
One of the most important reasons is that Hipcamp was born from a New Year’s camping trip :-)
But the reason I have always loved New Years is the space it creates for reflection, goal setting and big thinking. This space can be hard to find in our increasingly real-time and hyper-connected world.
As I look back on 2016, I see a year that was tough for so many people. The election was a shock for many, laying bare a clear divide between rural and urban communities.
Yet I also see a year where we learned that Hipcamp is uniquely positioned to create community that spans this urban / rural divide. With a powerful foundation of shared values—a love for nature, respect for land, and a passion for enjoying the great outdoors—our community transcends many of the boundaries that traditionally separate us. And this is very exciting. As a recent camper put it, “Hipcamp is connecting people from different places and classes and interesting things happen when different people come together.”
From Hipcamp Host, Myrna of Mare Island Preserve, "We had the most darling couple at the garden yurt. Here's their photo taken at our campfire Christmas night. First camping ever. From India.”
When local communities become more connected, we all become stronger.
When rural and urban communities recognize their inherent interdependence and spend time learning from one another, we all become wiser.
2016 is a year where we facilitated over ten times the camping trips than we did in 2015. And we’re just getting started!
It has also been a year filled with many great teachers and learnings. Here is a brief summary of some of the most profound things I learned in 2016...
1. Nature as Healthcare
I had the deep honor of studying with Professor Miyazaki, the inventor of the term shinrin-yoku, which roughly translates to “forest bathing.” His incredible research in the field of "nature therapy" proves that spending time in nature has a profound impact on not just our mental, but also our physical well-being, and may be one of the most powerful forms of preventive medicine we have (more on this soon!).
2. Hunters as Conservationists
From TJ Greaney and the other amazing folks at the Texas Outdoor Writers Association, I learned that hunters are among the most passionate conservationists on the planet, and that the self-imposed tax from hunting and fishing licenses and equipment support the vast majority of Parks & Wildlife budgets across the country. The book Tending the Wild further illuminated for me the deep relationship between humans and the rest of nature that is forged by the act of taking directly from the land by hunting, gathering, or farming. I realized how much distance has been placed between the average person and their food in our modern food supply system.
3. Cultural Relevancy
Morgan Dixon, co-founder of the incredible GirlTrek, taught me a powerful definition of cultural relevancy—understanding your own lens, bias and perspective, and realizing that how you see something is very different from others see it. She used the example of the forest. As an African American woman, she sees the forest and thinks of Harriet Tubman and dogs chasing slaves escaping to their freedom. This is very different from how a Native American will see the forest, or how a middle class white man will see it.
4. Nature as Antithesis to Oppression
From Ruby Jean Garcia, Executive Projects Coordinator for the awesome Latino Outdoors, I learned that outdoor recreation is the antithesis to oppression. Nature is a powerful form of healing—it is empowering, gives people hope, and can reveal their potential. Therefore, environmental justice is social justice.
5. Environmental Justice Before Conservation
From Janet Valenzuela, a brilliant student and Chicana eco-feminist, I learned that environmental justice is an inextricable part of the movement to get people outside. Until people have access to clean air, water and food where they live, expecting them to get outside and enjoy a park, or join the fight to conserve land, is unreasonable. As Janet spoke of the air quality conditions that made taking recess outside unsafe, she said something that will stay with me for my lifetime, "The truth about public lands, is that we haven't even begun thinking about public lands." My privilege, laid bare.
6. Importance of All Life
From Terry Tempest Williams, one of my favorite authors, I learned beautiful words to express a belief I have held deeply for my whole life but never been able to truly express: “We are not the only species that lives, dreams, and loves on this planet.” (Check out her amazing new book The Hour of Land!)
7. Indigenous Leadership
From the indigenous leaders at Standing Rock, I learned the unstoppable power of local communities united by deep shared values, and the importance of indigenous leadership—especially on environmental issues. I deeply admire their deep respect for the land and the core understanding that humans are part of nature—not something separate. I feel it is essential that "mainstream" these understandings into modern America culture.
8. Public Parks without Public Funding
On Mare Island, I learned that with courageous leadership and passionate volunteers you can create a public park without public funding. Myrna Hayes and her incredible team of volunteers have created something truly extraordinary at this beautiful 300 acre island in the San Francisco Bay. It’s a great spot for a quick microadventure, you should definitely check it out!
Photos by (top) Ezekiel Gonzalez, (bottom) Madison Kotack at Mare Island Preserve
9. Camping Supports Local Food
With the partnership of the wonderful Scottie Jones at Farm Stay US and many of our incredible farmer hosts, I learned about the important role camping can play for farmers in diversifying revenue and making farm living more sustainable. When you are camping on a farm or ranch, the opportunity to learn about where your food comes from and the amazing people who had dedicated their lives to feeding you certainly adds a unique element to camping! Plus it is amazing to bring your table to the farm, and enjoy meals cooked with fresh produce, eggs or meats from the very land where you're camping.
10. Micro-Adventures Rock
The power of a weeknight getaway to recharge your spirit is incredible, and we are making this easier by unlocking access to more and more places to find yourself outside close to cities. We even interviewed the creator of the term of “micro-adventure” to get some guidance straight from the source.
Just an hour and thirty minutes north of San Francisco, the Eagle’s Nest Treehouse is a perfect example of a weekday/night micro-adventure. Leave the tent and sleeping bags at home, and get outside! Photo by Julian Bialowas.
2017 is an exciting year. Hipcamp will be focused on expanding across the country. We’re looking for new landowners to partner with, new campers to get outside, and new stories to share. If you have ideas, please let us know! We'd love to hear from you. And you can always submit your own story to the Hipcamp Journal here.
Happy New Year—I hope you find yourself outside in 2017!
Main image by Elizabeth Rubel
Alyssa is the founder and CEO of Hipcamp. She has a degree from UCLA in Digital Democracy and her deepest passion is helping shape how the internet impacts our humanity and our planet.