Listen: 20210916_PKG Adventure Gap (Kraker)

MPR’s Dan Kraker reports on the efforts in Duluth to address a problem known as the ‘Adventure Gap.’ Various groups in the city are trying to provide BIPOC children oppurtiunities to experience and enjoy outdoor sports in the area.

As adventure sports like climbing and mountain biking surge in popularity, they remain overwhelmingly white. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, about 75 percent of Americans who take part in outdoor sports are white. Yet they make up only about 60 percent of the overall population. 


2021 PMJA Award, first place in Division AA - Sports Feature category


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SPEAKER 1: Let's talk about adventure sports, like mountain biking and climbing, they are all the rage right now in Duluth. The city has invested in new bike and ski trails, even an ice climbing park. But as Minnesota becomes more diverse, those sports remain overwhelmingly white. Dan Crocker has this story on what effort to bridge the so-called adventure gap.

DAN CROCKER: On a beautiful late summer day, the Duluth climbers coalition took two groups of kids from Western Duluth rock climbing on Ely's Peak, an area of rocky slopes and sheer cliffs along the ridge that climbs up from Lake Superior.

DAVE PAGEL: So Riley, you'll find a good foothold for your other foot right up in that corner now.

DAN CROCKER: Dave Pagel is coaching nine-year-old Riley Robinson up a 30-foot tall rock face. Several times, she arrives at a tough spot on the climb and says she wants to come down, but Pagel keeps encouraging her.

DAVE PAGEL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

DAN CROCKER: And then she makes it through and finally to the top.

DAVE PAGEL: That's it. That's it.

SPEAKER 2: You did it.

DAN CROCKER: Robinson is here with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland. With her feet planted firmly on the ground again, she says this was her first time climbing on a real rock.

RYLEIGH ROBINSON: It's hard. It's kind of scary. I thought I was going to drop.

DAN CROCKER: But she says she also had fun. She liked how she had to use her mind to figure out the best route up. Pagel says overcoming your fears, perseverance, those are real life skills that sports like climbing or biking or skiing can help instill.

DAVE PAGEL: It's learning self-determination. It's learning self-confidence. It's learning trust. Those are all things that translate to the bigger picture.

DAN CROCKER: According to the Outdoor Industry Association, however, about 75% of Americans who take part in outdoor sports are white, yet they make up only about 60% of the overall population. That's what's known as the adventure gap. Pagel believes there's a moral obligation to make sure everyone can access these sports, especially in Duluth. The city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building new trails and climbing areas, many of them on the Western side of Duluth, which is more diverse and lower income than the city as a whole.

DAVE PAGEL: What we have to realize is that there's a moral imperative to make sure that the people who live in those neighborhoods have access to those things, too, especially the kids.

DAN CROCKER: But there are a lot of barriers to accessing those sports. A big one is money. Biking and climbing require expensive gear. Russ Sulgy is Executive Director of the Valley Youth Center in Western Duluth, another organization partnering with the Duluth Climbers Coalition.

RUSS SULGY: It's really become a pay-to-play landscape in kind of all recreation. So we're trying to defeat that because all kids don't have the same ability to pay, but they should have the same ability to play. So we really try to break down that transportation, that fee-based barrier for a lot of the kids that we see.

DAN CROCKER: Another barrier is representation. Alexandera Houchin is a professional mountain bike racer and a member of the Fond Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She lives on the band's reservation about a half hour South of Duluth. She says when she started racing about a decade ago--

ALEXANDERA HOUCHIN: That's where I really started to notice, like, I barely ever see any brown people biking. I barely ever see any non-white people at these races.

DAN CROCKER: She says as young people begin to see more people who look like them participating in these sports, then those sports will start to seem more attainable to them. Because right now, she says, it's not just that they're expensive, many people have no idea how to get started.

ALEXANDERA HOUCHIN: You don't know what to buy if you don't know where to go, if you don't know how to use these things, but even getting access to learn how to use these things is a really big problem.

DAN CROCKER: That's why opportunities like with the Duluth Climbers Coalition are important. They expose kids like Gabby Manthey to activities they might not otherwise get to experience. The 13-year-old says, she's amazed at what she just accomplished.

GABBY MANTHEY: And I can't believe that I was actually that high up.

DAN CROCKER: I know. How do you feel? Do you feel proud?

GABBY MANTHEY: Yeah. And I feel shocked because I just climbed super high. And I thought that I couldn't do it, but I did it.

DAN CROCKER: That's the goal of programs like these, to grow future climbers and future mentors who will then inspire their peers to enjoy the outdoors in their backyard. Dan Crocker, NPR News, Duluth.

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