Charlotte Inner City Outings, an outreach program of the Sierra Club environmental organization, recently announced its launch.
Charlotte ICO will work with local agencies and community centers to offer positive outdoor experiences to youths and adults who typically wouldn’t have opportunities to explore the outdoors, according to a news release.
Karan Barber, a Navy veteran and environmental educator with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from Queens University of Charlotte, is chairwoman of the program.
Hikes, conservation activities and service-learning projects in the outdoors will be among the offerings. Outings will take place in local parks at first, Barber said.
The Central Piedmont Group of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club, which meets at Freedom Park, will share communication and outreach materials with Charlotte ICO; the group also encourages members to become certified as ICO leaders, Bill Gupton, conservation chairman for the Central Piedmont Group, wrote in an email.
“We see the ICO program as a great complement to our outings and educational activities,” Gupton wrote. “Connecting youth and adults to nature helps to create a greater appreciation of the need to preserve and protect our special places.”
Charlotte ICO also will partner with E-Corps Expeditions Inc., another organization with which Barber is involved, which focuses on community, outdoor appreciation, recreation and environmental education.
Barber is looking for volunteers for Charlotte ICO. “I would like them to come from all cultures and communities,” she said.
The program will draw participants from the greater Charlotte area, mostly older children, “tweens” and teenagers, and also persons with disabilities.
“I would like to cater to anybody who shows an interest,” Barber said.
Exercise, relaxation and learning to observe are among the benefits of the outdoors, she said.
Barber, who lives in Steele Creek, is animated as she describes plans for ICO activities, including looking for dragonflies.
Charlotte ICO joins a national network of Inner City Outings programs. The first program began in 1971 with the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, according to Debra Asher, the Sierra Club outdoors volunteer support representative for ICO.
In 1976, the Sierra Club recognized ICO as a nationwide effort.
There are 54 programs around the country. In 2013, 841 outings were held, serving 15,965 youths and adults, according to Asher.
Barber said that social and economic issues, and fear of the unknown, are a few reasons people have limited access to nature.
She recalls a 14-year-old camper she led at day camp at Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville. At the beginning of the week, he was so afraid of walking a trail he had to hold her shoulder. By the end of the week, he was comfortable.
Being outdoors is second nature to Barber, who has gone camping since age 5 and spent family vacations in state and national parks.
“I don’t ever remember staying in a hotel,” she said. “And to this day I’d prefer not to.”
Gupton wrote that the launch of Charlotte ICO comes as the country will mark the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act later this year. Passed by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson in September 1964, the act established a National Wilderness Preservation System.