January 29, 2023

Burlington Parks Department encourages BIPOC residents to get outside and learn new winter sports

Health experts say one key to beating the winter blahs is to get outside, whether…

Health experts say one key to beating the winter blahs is to get outside, whether it’s trying a new winter activity like cross-country skiing or a social one like sipping hot cocoa by a fire pit with new friends.

That’s why Burlington Parks Recreation and Waterfront is holding a BIPOC Winter Community Day at Leddy Park on Jan. 14.

The department is trying to create a welcoming space for Vermonters who are Black, Indigenous and other people of color to network, try a new winter sport and enjoy the outdoors.

Vermont Public’s Mary Williams Engisch spoke with Cindi Wight, director of Burlington Parks Recreation and Waterfront and Andrew Romano, an urban park ranger in Burlington, who’s hosting the event. Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Mary Engisch: Andrew, set the scene for the day itself. We know that you’re inviting BIPOC Vermonters in the area to head outdoors to pursue some winter recreation. Can you tell us like what the plan for the day is?

 A person standing atop a rocky mountain peak is wearing a baseball cap and smiling broadly at the camera. They are holding onto ski poles, carrying Nordic skis on their back and giving a "thumbs up" sign.

Andrew Romano: The highlight of the event is going to be Nordic skiing, potentially some snowshoeing and ice skating.

I’m going to be working with the grounds team using a front-end loader to try to use some of the ice rink ice.

I love the Zamboni snow to the rescue!

We need to work with what we can. And I think it also highlights the importance of advocating and involvement with climate change and justice.

And Andrew, your department’s describing the event as an affinity space for BIPOC individuals. Can you talk a little bit what an affinity space is and why it’s vital?

I should correct and be transparent. An affinity space encourages folks of just a certain community and identity to join into that space, versus a community event, which is what we’re naming it.

We’re also welcoming some allies into that space. Because I do also want to say that sometimes an affinity space with BIPOC folks or other identities that kind of share that affinity space identity might have a partner or a kid that might not share that full identity. And we want everybody to kind of come together as one community. So it it is going to be a BIPOC community space. But in terms of a pure affinity space, there will be some non-BIPOC allies who do understand how to make space for a BIPOC community.

Thank you so much for that clarification.

Cindy, I understand that the program recently was awarded of Vermont Outdoor Recreation Communities, or VOREC, grant by the state of Vermont. Can you walk us through what a VOREC grant is and how it will be used?

A person wearing silver-rimmed glasses smiles broadly at the camera. They have short gray hair, and are wearing long triangle-shaped earrings and a blue hooded sweater.

Cindi Wight: The VOREC grant is typically funded by the state for more rural areas. In Burlington, we have lots of outdoor recreation, economic opportunities. But what we focused on here in Burlington is our historically underrepresented individuals in the outdoors.

We want to ensure that everybody has access to the outdoors and has the equipment that they need for the outdoors. A lot of the money that we receive for the grant is about equipment. We’ll have a trailer full of skis and snowshoes and Microspikes and sleds that we can bring around the city to make sure we can bring outdoor recreation right to where individuals are.

Vermont’s got so much stunning wilderness. The event, though, is held right in Burlington. How important is it to have spaces that are really right at your doorstep when we’re talking about trying to make outdoor activities more accessible to Vermonters?

Andrew Romano: I think it’s so important, especially in the days of the pandemic and people and technology, just being able to leave your office, leave your room, leave your house. I think there’s a statistic that 90% of Burlingtonians are within like a 10- to 15-minute walk of a public park space.

But just being able to release stress, in some fashion, whether it’s going for a walk, going for a run, just playing some basketball or going for a swim, kayaking, fishing. Or even go ice skating here at the ice rink. Just being able to spend time away from other points of stress in your life and go into natural environment. That’s really quite wonderful.

Cindi Wight: It’s incredibly important because in order to first get excited and want to be outdoors, and especially in the wintertime, you’ve got to feel comfortable going right out your door.

And it might be going just to your neighborhood park or, you know, the regional park in your community. But that sense that you don’t have to drive to the wilderness to get outdoors and enjoy activities. But it’s something that you can do right out your back door. You’ve got the access and you feel welcome into those spaces.

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