“I am the person I needed when I was young,” says Team Naturaleza project director Elisa Lopez. Lopez grew up on Stemilt Hill, her family worked in agriculture. She was always curious about the natural world, but had no one to take her out and explore. So, she joined Team Naturaleza to share her passion for the outdoors with youth and bilingual families in Central Washington.
A report by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress showed people of color are three times more likely to live in nature deprived areas. And it’s not due to lack of interest. From 2009 to 2013, Environment for the Americas conducted surveys throughout the U.S. with the goal of increasing Latino participation in outdoor experiences. They determined Latinos didn’t feel comfortable joining programs that already existed, either due to cost, transportation, lack of trust or not having a familiar face in the program. As a result, Team Naturaleza was born in 2012.
Two weekends each month, Lopez takes families on an outdoor adventure in the valley. They caravan out to Ancient Lakes in Quincy, or Jacobson Preserve trail for “night hikes” to talk about stars, the solar system as well as nocturnal animals. The program is 100% bilingual. Lopez partners up with educators who speak Spanish, or translates for them. A degree in Zoology from WSU comes in handy to touch on different topics. Team Naturaleza invited a beaver specialist out to the Horan Natural Area, and plans to have a snow science day at Basecamp Cascadia with snowshoeing, hot cocoa and sledding. They also take part in after-school programs in the Wenatchee area – including field trips to the riparian and shrub-steppe habitats in our area.
Lopez says her goal is to introduce new people to the program and hopes word of mouth will lead to outdoor representation that’s equal to the population in town. “I want our families to see nature for what it fully is, not just something that exists outside our window,” says Lopez. Team Naturaleza relies on grants and donations, along with public support for public lands. “Without public lands, we would have nowhere to go. This program is a clear example of why public lands are important.”
To keep up with Team Naturaleza, learn more about the activities they put on, or provide support, follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teamnaturalezawenatchee