Thursday, December 27, 2018

Christian Songs About Nature For Kids and Adults

Songs that discuss and praise God's creation are always popular. They are useful in nearly every spiritual meeting. But it can be hard to find a good one. Below I have put together a list of my favorite nature songs. I have included links to the lyrics, music (when possible), and a location where you can buy a copy of the song. I have included some especially for kids as these can be very hard to find. If you think of a song I should include please share in the comments below.

Kids Songs (birth to 12+)

Can You Be a Sunbeam?

This song is great for the little kids. It is very repetitive and includes motions to get out the wiggles. It is perfect for Sunday/Sabbath school classes, VBS, and kid specific events. But watch-out, it might get suck in your head!
Lyrics and sheet music along with music audio: Here

Down By The Creekbank

This is a classic song loved by generations of kids. It captures all the things kids love to see in nature from tadpoles to spiders. It has an easy tune that can be learned quickly. It is perfect for making up your own hand motions to represent all the animals. A wagging finger for an earthworm is always fun!
Lyrics: Here
Music audio: Here

God Made Me and All of You

This little ditty is sung to the tune of London Bridges Falling Down and should be familiar to most everyone. It is perfect for the very young kids in cradle roll because it is short. It is easy even if you are not musically inclined. 
Lyrics: Here
Music audio: Here

God Made Me

This song is also short and sweet. It is easy and perfect for the little ones and older kids too. It talks about how God made everything and ends with a thank you to God for making the animals and us. It is also easy to pick up whether you are musically inclined or not. 
Lyrics: Here
Music audio: Here

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

This song has a special place in my heart because I remember singing it when I was little. When I grew up I sang it when helping my mom with kids programs too. It is a bit more complex and better for kids that are in grade school. It has a fantastic message that people any age can be reminded of. Plus it has fantastic hand motions!
Lyrics and sheet music: Here
Music audio: Here
Buy song: Here

Jesus Made Me Just Like Him

This song is fun and easy. It is put to the tune of Jesus loves me. So everyone can sing along even without music. You can also simply add the first verse of this song to the song Jesus loves me along with it's many other verses. You can add motions by touching each part of the body as you sing it. Check it out.
Lyrics: Here
Music audio: Here

Seven Days of Creation Song

This is a great song for any Creation themed programs such as VBS. It progresses through creation week touching on all the things made each day. So it has several short verses. It is sung to the tune of “Are You Sleeping Brother John” which means it is an echo song. It is longer than the previous songs but is still easy to learn because it moves at a mellow pace.
Lyrics: Here
Music audio: Here

Our Wonderful World

This is a song you have likely never heard before. It was written by a friend of mine and her friend. I especially like this song because not only does it celebrate God's Creation but also encourages us to take care of that Creation. My friend is a kindergarten teacher and sings this with her class every day just before they go back inside.

God made our wonderful world.
God made our wonderful world.
He made all the trees the grass and the flowers,
the animals, the fish, and the turtles.

We'll take care of our wonderful world.
We'll take care of our wonderful world.
We'll explore and discover and try to uncover
the wonderful gifts God has given.

Words By Eudora Stevens

All Ages (especially 8+)

As The Deer

This is another all-time favorite. It seems to get better with every passing year. The lyrics are basically plucked right out of a Psalm so it is timeless. It describes our longing for God as a deer thirsts for the cool mountain stream. It makes a great song at home, in church, or around the campfire.
Lyrics: Here
Sheet music: Here
Music audio: Here

God Of Wonders

This great worship song is powerful for conveying the depths of God's creation. It brings us to wonder how he made everything we can see. It is fun and upbeat and perfect for worship in church, summer camp, or anywhere.
Lyrics: Here
Music video: Here
Music chords: Here
Buy song: Here

All Things New

Another great worship song that seems timeless. It conveys a message of renewal as God makes all things new in Creation, including us. It is catchy and popular. It is a great closing song for any worship event.
Lyrics: Here
Music chords: Here
Buy: Here

All Creatures Of Our God And King

This is a great hymn found in hymnals the world over. It has been loved by generations of praising Christians. It is a resounding chorus that asks all nature to praise God along with his people. It is a moving song that speaks to the majesty of our Creator God.
Lyrics: Here
Sheet music: Here
Buy: Here

Spring Has Now Unwrapped The Flowers

Here is a little known song that nevertheless has a deep message. It describes in detail the creative power of our God. It ends with praises lifted to the maker of all we see. It is a wonderful hymn to sing in church or even home.
Lyrics and sheet music: Here
Music chords: Here
Music audio: Here

There are of course numerous other songs that could be included in this list. Both music and nature are great ways through which we can appreciate His marvelous works and praise him. Here is a list of over 100 other hymns and songs that praise God through nature:

Written by David F. Garner

Monday, December 24, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 88: Self-Control, Man's Best Friend

Key Verse

“Don’t be deceived! “Evil companionships corrupt good morals.”” 1 Corinthians 15:33 (WEB)


Dogs are man’s best friend. It has been this way for thousands of years. There is something mysterious yet undeniable about it. Dogs are able to bond with their masters unlike most other animals. There is no other animal as popular for a pet as a dog. One of the key reasons for this is their faithfulness. Dogs can be faithful to their masters even to the point of laying down their life for their owner. Another reason is their usefulness. Dogs are capable of being trained to do numerous tasks. Dogs are incredibly smart and able to learn a wide variety of complex commands. Also, there are numerous dog breads with a wide variety of looks and temperaments. According to the American Kennel Club there are over 340 dog breads around the world. This variety means owners have many options to choose which size, color, temperament or other features suit their needs or desires.

Humans and dogs have a lot in common. Like humans, dogs can read facial expressions, display empathy, jealousy, anger and joy. They can show favoritism to one person over another. They can cooperate with us and with other dogs to accomplish a common task. Dogs are incredibly good at living with humans because they are social animals. In the wild, dogs are pack animals, and this makes forming a social bond with humans natural. Perhaps the biggest reason the two species get along so well is because we have more in common than different. Like humans, dogs have personal preferences and unique personalities. Dogs have been compared to human children in their intelligence and emotional expression. We understand each other well. It also helps that dogs are so loyal. They love us no matter what.

A recent study looking at humans and dogs found another interesting comparison. Both dogs and humans can exercise high levels of self-control. We are both able to control and resist impulses to do things that are not beneficial. This is an important skill for survival. It is key for forming and maintaining social bonds. The most surprising finding that resulted from the study was that after exerting self-control for a period of time, both humans and dogs had a diminishing ability to control their impulses. After resisting their impulses for an extended period in one area humans and dogs were more likely to give into their impulses in another area, to act more aggressively, and to have increased difficulty with problem solving. Basically, the longer they had to engage self-control, the harder it was to resist temptation.1

There is a spiritual lesson here for us humans to learn. The Bible informs us that we will face temptation in this life to do evil. Satan is constantly working to trick us into doing things we know are wrong. Paul tells us that we are in a war against our own impulses to do evil. It is something that we must fight every day. The Bible also warns us not to put ourselves into a place where we know we will be tempted. In the key verse we are warned that hanging out with the wrong crowd will make it hard for us to stick to good morals. If your friends are doing things you know are wrong, things that you are tempted to do, than staying around them is going to make it even harder for you to exercise self-control. The lesson here is that we should avoid putting our self in to tempting situations. As the study demonstrated, the longer we have to exert self-control, the more likely we will give in. We should avoid putting ourselves near temptation when possible. When it is not, God will give us power to resist. This quote states it well, “Those who operate through the Holy Spirit are more equipped to resist temptation.” – Monica Johnson


What is your favorite kind of dog?

Is it wrong to struggle with temptation?

What methods does the Bible provide for resisting temptation?

When will temptation go away?


1. Stanley Coren, “Self-Control in Dogs Is a Limited Resource,” Psychology Today online, last updated July 16, 2014,

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Pexels via

Monday, December 17, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 87: Reindeer Gospel

Key Text

"For so has the Lord commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’” Acts 13:47 (WEB)


Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. We all know the story. A young reindeer who is shunned and teased because he looks different with his bright red nose. But his seeming handicap turns out to be just what Santa needs and so Rudolf finds his purpose in the world. Reindeer are unique and almost magical creatures to most of the world because of Christmas myths and where they live. Reindeer make their home so far north few people will ever see them more than once or perhaps not at all.

Reindeer are also called caribou in North America and are rather interesting creatures. Both male and female grow impressive antlers. They are able to survive in subzero temperatures and blinding blizzard weather. Some species have knees that make a clicking noise that helps the herds stay together when it’s hard to see. They also have hooves that expand in the summertime when the ground is soft and shrink in winter when it’s hard. Reindeer are known to migrate as much as 3000 miles (4800 km) per year in search of food which is a record among land animals. Reindeer have specially designed noses that warm the frigid air before it enters their lungs.1

Their nose is able to do this thanks to an enormous blood supply that circulated through their nose. This blood flow actually turns the tip of their nose red at times. Robert May, the creator of the Rudolf story, might have been inspired after seeing a reindeer with a red nose in real life. The distinctive red hue is not bright enough to guide a sleigh, but it is a marvelous tool for regulating body temperature. Scientists have discovered that in addition to warming air, a reindeer's nose acts to release body heat in their head. This helps to keep their brain at a proper temperature. Reindeer are truly amazing creatures.

We like Rudolf all have a blemish. There is definitely something wrong about us. We have all felt the sting of other people making fun of us and this can bring our faults to the surface. I am not talking about external blemishes or even problems inside the body, I am talking about defects in our hearts and our personalities. We have a selfishness problem. While it is no fun to be made fun of or shunned like Rudolf, we have also acted like the other reindeer at times and made fun of or shunned others. There is good news. When we give ourselves to Jesus, he will show us how to live for others. The gospel of Rudolf's story is that there is one Person who can take our defects and make them into something that gives light to the world.


How do you feel when others make fun of you?
Do you think Santa let the other reindeer make fun of Rudolf?
What does the Bible teach about having the qualifications to be used by God?
What is one way to can use your defects to spread the Gospel of Jesus?


1. Joseph Stromberg, "The Scientific Reason Why Reindeer Have Red Noses," Smithsonian online, last modified December 18, 2012,

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: Natalia_Kollegova via

Monday, December 10, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 86: Red and Green

Key Text

"If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also." John 14:3 (WEB)


What is red and green all over? It probably did not take you long to guess Christmas. These two colors are often considered the official colors of the holiday. But other colors are popular too. Blue, gold, silver, and white can be seen adorning nearly every home and shop at Christmas. Red and green still seem to dominate all others. It hasn’t always been that way. Until the early 20th century many colors were used in decorations as much as any other. But red and green slowly came to prominence with time.

In colder climates in Europe and North America, the dark green holly plant with its bright red berries are a familiar and welcome sight. They are one of few plants that grow in the cold months and stick out against the snow. Holly is able to grow even in winter because it is an evergreen. It can tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees F (-6 degrees C).1 Holly has long been a symbol of hope of coming spring. So the holly branch has been associated with the Christmas season for centuries. The holly branch helped to make red and green the most popular Christmas colors.

This hope is mirrored in the hope of the Christmas story in which the birth of Jesus symbolized the coming hope of his mission. The birth of Jesus did not in itself bring salvation. Jesus still had to grow up. He had to complete his ministry and train disciples to carry his message to the world. Then he had to choose to go to the cross and die for our sins. But the birth of the Messiah brought hope. It was a sign that God was in the process of carrying out his promise. It was a symbol of hope.

God is now in the process of carrying out another promise. He is working to prepare a place for you and me so that he can come again and take us to live with him for eternity. As Jesus promised in the key text, he will come again and take us back to heaven with him. Christmas is the celebration of the first advent of Jesus and a reminder that Jesus fulfilled God's promise of a redeemer to save the world. When you look at the red and green decorations this Christmas season, let them remind you that like the holly is a promise of the coming spring, so Christmas is a promise of a savior that is coming a second time.


What is your favorite Christmas color?
What else does Christmas give us hope for?
Why has Jesus not returned yet?
How long will it be to Jesus comes back?

1. "AMERICAN HOLLY," University of Kentucky, Department of Horticulture online, last updated December 7, 2018, from

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, December 7, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 85: Better Than Metal Bones

Key Text

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.


Have you ever wished that you were made of metal? That your bones were as strong as steel and could never be broken, or perhaps that you had your own metal armor? This is a dream shared by many boys but probably few girls. It is an interesting thought and one contemplated by biologists. Not long ago biologists discovered one creature that does have a metal skeleton. It is called the scaly-foot gastropod (Crysomallon squamiferum). This odd creature is a snail-like animal that lives deep in the ocean near hydrothermal vents where it is warm. They live at depths of 1.5-1.7 miles (2.4-2.8 km). Scaly-foot gastropods grow their own shell which they use as a defense from predators.

Their shell is made of a trilayered composite structure that resembles modern armor. It is made of a highly calcified inner layer, an organic middle layer, and coated with an iron-sulfide outer layer. This deep-sea snail has iron armor! It is currently the only known animal to achieve this. This metal armored shell also acts as an exoskeleton for the snail. It serves to protect it from the harsh corrosive water it lives in as well as to stop predators from eating it. This unique creature is providing researchers with new insights that may lead to better designs for materials to use in armor and all sorts of applications.1

Researchers have studied metal and other materials as possible substitutes for bone in humans. Metals and other composite materials are used to replace bones in some surgeries such as hip replacements. These materials are in many ways stronger and more resilient than bone. One critical barrier remains to replacing our bones with other materials—self healing. Our bodies are designed to heal injuries using the materials and molecules we had at birth. Our bodies are simply not designed to heal metal bones.

Humans may devise a way to replace their bones with stronger materials one day. It may seem better to never have to worry about having a broken bone. But metal bones or armor will not stop all pain or harm. It cannot prevent death. God has given us something better than metal armor. He has provided a shield for us. As it says in the key text, those who trust in God will have him as their protector, as their rock. When we submit to God and trust him to provide our protection then we can have peace. God has outlined his armor for us in Ephesians 6:10-18: righteousness, faith, truth, and salvation. With these tools we have the protection of the Almighty King, much better than any metal. The scaly-foot gastropod can go about its business, without worry of danger, confident in the armor God has provided for it. How much more can we live free from worry, confident in the protection God provides us? Are we not more valuable than a sea snail? Jesus died to redeem us, our salvation is assured. We may suffer broken bones here on this earth, but that is nothing compared to the hope we have in Jesus!


If you have had a broken bone, how did it happen?

Would you choose between metal bones or metal armor? Why?

What do we do when we trust God’s protection but still worry?


1. Yao, Haimin, Ming Dao, Timothy Imholt, Jamie Huang, Kevin Wheeler, Alejandro Bonilla, Subra Suresh, and Christine Ortiz. “Protection Mechanisms of the Iron-Plated Armor of a Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Gastropod.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, no. 3 (January 19, 2010): 987 LP-992.

Written by David F. Garner

Photo credit:  Kentaro Nakamura, Hiromi Watanabe, Junichi Miyazaki, Ken Takai, Shinsuke Kawagucci, Takuro Noguchi, Suguru Nemoto, Tomo-o Watsuji, Takuya Matsuzaki, Takazo Shibuya, Kei Okamura, Masashi Mochizuki, Yuji Orihashi, Tamaki Ura, Akira Asada, Daniel Marie, Meera Koonjul, Manvendra Singh, Girish Beedessee, Mitrasen Bhikajee, Kensaku Tamaki via This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Outdoor Object Lesson 84: Almonds For You

Key Text

“Moreover God’s word came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree.” Then God said to me, “You have seen well; for I watch over my word to perform it.”” Jeremiah‬ ‭1:11-12‬ ‭(WEB‬‬ paraphrased)


Almonds are a spectacular nut. They offer great health benefits. They are high in vitamins E and B2, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. They offer a high level of antioxidants and are beneficial for the cardiovascular system.1 These nuts have a mild taste that is great alone and with many other foods. They make a great nut butter. They can even be used to make a tasteful milk substitute.

They grow on trees and are native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean region. They grow well in warm regions such as California which produces 80% of the world's almonds. Although almonds are normally called a nut they are technically a seed which grows inside a hard fruit covering called a drupe. There are two varieties of almonds, sweet and bitter. As you likely guessed the sweet almond is the one that is eaten as a nut. The bitter almond variety is used to produce oil.2 The most striking aspect of the almond tree is the flowers. When in full bloom they are beautiful with five white to light pink petals. They have a rich fragrance that smells of honey butter.

In the Bible, almonds are mentioned several times. In Genesis 43:11 Jacob tells his sons to take almonds with them into Egypt as one of the best foods of the land. These are to be a present to Joseph, probably because the almond was not a native to the region of Egypt. In Exodus 25:33-34 Moses was directed to decorate parts of the candlestick for the wilderness Tabernacle with carvings resembling branches and blossoms of the almond tree. Aaron's rod yielded almond blossoms and ripe almonds to prove he was God’s choice for high priest (Numbers 17:8). The most unusual mention of almonds is in the key text where Jeremiah sees an almond branch in vision. It is an odd verse the first time it is read. God asks Jeremiah "What do you see?" and Jeremiah says, "the branch of an almond tree." Then God seems to congratulate him on his powers of observation then completely change the subject.

While God may seem absent minded at first, when reading the verse in context, it makes more sense. Throughout the chapter of Jeremiah 1 God repeatedly asks Jeremiah what he sees in vision, then makes an important statement. God uses these images as symbols. He is trying to help Jeremiah understand the crucial points of His message. Almond buds are usually the first to appear after the long winter. They usually start growing in late January before winter is completely gone.2 The Hebrew word for almond (shaked) means the tree that "hastens to awake." Here God is emphasizing his hast to fulfill his promises to his people. God would not delay in fulfillment of his gracious and divine promise. His message is the same to us today. Look at the bare branch of the almond tree, watch as I fulfill my promises in your life and make them bloom into a beautiful flower and bear delicious fruit.


What is your favorite nut?

What can you do when you read something in the Bible, like the key text, that doesn't make any sense?

Is it significant that God compares the fulfillment of his promises to a flower that blooms towards the end of winter?

What promises has God given for your life that he has yet to fulfill?

1. Joe Leech, "9 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Almonds," Healthline online, last modified September 6, 2018,

2. Melissa Petruzzello, "Almond," Encyclopædia Britannica online, last modified September 20, 2018,

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: LinArt via

Monday, December 3, 2018

Black People And Their Fight For Equal Rights In The Outdoors

African American children with dog on the beach - Apalachicola, Florida C. 1895

In the late 19th century the back-to-nature movement began as a revolt against mass and rapid urbanization in the northern U.S. It was defined by a desire to return to the more rural countryside where fewer people lived and more open spaces existed. Cities were crowded and dirty. Many people worked in factories that were dark and noisy. Little room was left for green spaces as cities grew faster and faster with man-made structures popping up everywhere. When people no longer had easy access to open, outdoor spaces they realized how much they needed those spaces. It was a need felt by all races, religions, and socioeconomic classes.

People from every walk of life started seeking ways to leave the city if only for a few hours to reconnect with nature. This began with people riding the trolley to the end of the line or walking if they had to out of the city and into the countryside. Long walks, picnics, and eventually camping caught on as new but vital forms of recreation. People frequently picnicked in farmer’s fields, churchyards and even in cemeteries as no parks existed in most cities. This would be considered socially unacceptable today if not illegal. But at that time in history, people found natural spaces wherever they were available.

The back-to-nature movement has historically been seen as a primarily White phenomenon. But this is not the full story. Contact with nature is something everyone enjoys and is decidedly human. It is not limited to any race. Cultures throughout history have enjoyed gardens and prized natural spaces as sacred. To be human is to be a part of a larger biologically diverse community.

Black people have not historically accounted for a large percentage of outdoor recreators. But this has more to do with means and opportunity than with passion or desire. Segregated public spaces and businesses have long been a major obstacle to Black people who desired to enjoy natural areas. However, Black communities and individuals have found ways to access natural areas despite all barriers. There is no doubt they found ways to gather, recreate and relax outside even before the beginning of the back-to-nature movement.

A great example can be found in one Richard Allen. His story takes place before the back-to-nature movement. Allen was born a slave in 1760. During his childhood, he attended Methodist Society meetings and converted to the Protestant faith. As he grew older he purchased his own freedom and sought to become a preacher. At the young age of 22, he was licensed as an official Methodist preacher. At that time there was little effort to ease the plight of American slaves. Richard Allen sought to change that. Utilizing the progressive practices of the Methodist movement, Allen became a circuit preacher. He traveled by foot and horse as much as 25 miles a day around the New England States. He reported he enjoyed being outdoors despite the challenges. Wherever he went he preached his message of hope anywhere he could, often in open fields. At times barred from established churches, Allen took his message to his oppressed brethren wherever they were. He encountered much hardship and many barriers. He established the Free African Society in 1787 which provided assistance to the sick, widows, orphans, and anyone in need. His work eventually led to the creation of one of the first all-Black church in the United States —Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. This church is still thriving today.1,2

Beginning with the freeing of all slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War in 1865 the lot of Black people in the United States began to improve. However, things moved extremely slowly especially in the South due to discriminatory laws and attitudes. In many ways, life was as difficult and oppressive as pre-emancipation. Small freedoms became avenues through which African Americans could practice their independence. Hunting and fishing were vivid symbols of their new freedom and independence. Under the structure of slavery, White masters hunted and fished for sport. If Blacks did hunt or fish it was rarely for themselves and certainly never for recreation. With freedom came the ability to hunt and fish for themselves and their families. Still, for many, it was a requisite for survival. Poor and trapped in debt to White landlords due to unfair laws, most Blacks could not spare the resources to hunt and fish for pure pleasure until well into the 20th Century. Necessity was the prime motivation. Yet there is always a relish that accompanies these activities and although superseded by necessity, hunting and fishing provided a source of recreation. It simultaneously gave them control over their own lives and provided a means of enjoyment in the great outdoors.3

History has left us a definite record of African Americans participating in outdoor recreation on a large scale beginning in the 1890’s. Off the coast of Massachusetts in the Cape Cod islands are found beautiful beaches. Several Protestant evangelistic groups held revival meetings on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. As people attended these meetings they were impressed by the island's natural beauty. People began to frequent the island and its beaches. Black people grew especially fond of the beaches on the northeast side near Oak Bluffs because they were able to access them without the push-back of segregation. The main beach became known as Inkwell due to the predominantly Black visitors. This beach inspired the 1994 movie The Inkwell. This area became so popular around the turn of the 20th century that resort communities, many dedicated primarily to Black clientele, sprang up to accommodate the volume of visitors. This island is still a popular resort destination today.4

At the turn of the Century and into the first few decades African Americans continued to face segregation and discriminatory laws. One place provided a pleasant escape --Lincoln Hills. Lincoln Hills was a “Scenic Wonderland” in the Colorado Rocky Mountains as one advertisement put it. Beginning in 1922, Lincoln Hills slowly developed into a resort location where people, especially Blacks, could rent a cabin or a room at a lodge high in the mountains. Lots were also available for sale where one could build a private cabin adjacent to the commercial property. Lincoln Hills became a popular destination for summer vacationers in the ‘20’s and ‘30’s. It continues to be a location for outdoor relaxation and recreation today.5

Another significant event in this history was the establishment of camp Atwater in 1921 by Reverend Dr. William N. DeBerry. It was created as a summer camp especially for Black boys and girls at a time when most summer camps were segregated. It is the first known summer camp dedicated to serving Black and African American children. Camp Atwater is located in Massachusetts on the shores of Lake Lashaway. The camp is still serving kids nearly 100 years later.6

Rev. DeBerry was a visionary and anthropologist who worked hard to serve his community. He spearheaded the establishment of several church ministries dedicated to the community and especially children. These include a boy's and girl's club, women’s home, and education programs among others. He deserves to be remembered for his contributions.7

Thanks to civil rights promotion by leaders like Dr. DeBerry and to changing cultural dynamics, discussion of integration in many facets of society became ever more common. Summer camps were among those places where activists called for desegregation. In 1945 the American Camps Association became one of the first interstate camp organizations to call for inclusive summer camps. As a centralized association for summer camp leaders, it had the influence to affect change. Thanks to the ACA, camps across the United States slowly began to integrate.8

The YMCA has long provided recreational opportunities to African Americans in the United States and around the world. The first “Black YMCA” was founded in 1853 by Anthony Bowen, a former slave, only two years after the first YMCA was established in the U.S. It was located in Washington D.C.9 Others soon followed and the organization grew rapidly. The YMCA again changed recreation when they opened Camp Dudley in 1885. Because of the broad influence of the “Y”, Camp Dudley and other YMCA summer camps helped to popularize the summer camp movement across the Nation until it became a staple of American childhood. As talk of integration became common in the 1930’s and ‘40’s the YMCA leaders realized change was needed. However, at the organization level, leaders were hesitant to push camps to integrate across the country because in some regions of the country this change could have negative consequences. Instead, they left this decision up to local camp leadership. Some within the YMCA helped to improve outdoor recreation opportunities for Blacks when they began integrating camps.

First was Camp Custer, opened in 1944 in New York to serve an interracial clientele. Due to the dramatic success it achieved, in the first season, other camps in the region began integrating the following year in 1945. YMCA camps continued to integrate across the country in the following two decades with some leading the way and others only changing because of outside pressure. Summer camps run by the YMCA helped to show other camps what was possible and set a national precedent for interracial camps.10

1963 was a landmark year for the Civil Rights movement. It was the year of the March On Washington which helped to thrust the movement into the national spotlight. It was at this march that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Another landmark event took place that year that helped pave the way for African Americans to access the outdoors. In the same issue of Ebony Magazine that reported the March On Washington was another report on one of the first African American mountain climbers in North America. Ebony reported that Charles Madison Crenchaw had been selected as the first Black person to attempt to climb Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America. The actual climb took place in 1964. Crenchaw made a successful summit and returned as a conqueror. His success became symbolic of the mountains all African Americans were seeking to conquer through the Civil Rights movement. But more than that, Crenchaw showed that mountain climbing, and the outdoors, was a place for all races. He continued climbing for multiple decades and his story still provides inspiration.
Crenchaw enjoyed climbing because it gave him a sense of “oneness with God.”11 This is a prime reason many people have enjoyed the outdoors throughout history. It is refreshing to be close to God among his Creation.

Despite all the success of the Civil Rights movement in the latter half of the 20th Century, decades of statistics have shown low participation of minorities, including Black people, in outdoor recreation and visits to national and state parks. There is a myriad of complex reasons for this including socioeconomic barriers as well as cultural barriers. Many individuals, politicians, and companies have been working to address these barriers. Some of these individuals deserve mention for the impact they have had and for carrying forward the work of earlier civil rights activists.

In 1996 two college students began a friendship that would become a nationwide movement. GirlTrek was formed in 2012 by T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison and encourages women to use walking as a practical first step to inspire healthy living for themselves, their families and communities. Part of GirlTrek’s mission is to encourage African-American families to experience, protect and reclaim green spaces. Through walking outdoors they desire to, “Pioneer a health movement for African-American women and girls grounded in civil rights history and principles through walking campaigns, community leadership, and health advocacy.” GirlTrek has nearly 450 teams around the country and continues to grow.12

Another organization working to continue the legacy and help African Americans enjoy nature is Outdoor Afro. It is a nonprofit founded in 2009 that hosts outings, events, and workshops for many types of activities. These activities include backpacking, rock climbing, hiking, yoga, and others. Outdoor Afro serves over 30,000 people, and continues to grow. They seek to help Black people from every walk of life experience and enjoy the green spaces around them. At the same time, they work to share stories both present and past of individuals who have encountered nature in meaningful or inspiring ways. These stories help participants engage with the past and look to the future. Outdoor Afro is all about helping people have a good time and building community simultaneously.13

The history of Black people and their ability to access and enjoy natural spaces in the U.S.A. has been a story of freedom and civil rights; of hero’s, leaders and visionaries. The work is not over. Continued efforts are needed by individuals, communities, and organizations. Individuals like Dr. William N. DeBerry and organizations like Outdoor Afro and the American Camps Association. Individuals who will stand up, despite the costs and promote equality, freedom, and the ability to enjoy and preserve nature. People who will help to create a better future for the next generation. As Robert G. Stanton, first African American Director of the National Parks Service said, "if early on people develop an environmental ethic and an appreciation of their natural and cultural heritage, they will take that with them as they become a member of the Senate, become a president of a bank, or a grocer down at the corner store, or a carpenter."14


Written by David F. Garner


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Photo credit: Unknown. Copyright - Public Domain