They’re badasses on the trail, crag, and slopes, but they are also some of the most engaged citizens we know, leading the charge to protect the landscapes they care about and rabble-rouse on issues that matter. Our series on Outdoor Allies continues with Katie Van Riper, who is currently Communications Manager at Visit Salt Lake, and is one of the most committed, humble, and approachable advocates we know. Here, she shares the quote that changed her life, her brilliant 15-minute tricks for how to get involved in a new cause, and what she's working on lately (putting many of us to shame!).
Tell us a little bit about what you like to do outside and some of your favorite places to go.
The mountains have always been my home. Literally. Where I grew up (in Western Maine) they were a bit smaller than where I am at now (Utah) but they still carried the same vibe, the same passions and the same type of small, committed communities. That said, all my activities, interests and jobs have usually revolved around them; skiing is my happy place, my career, my social life, my family, but in the summer you can usually find me on a mountain bike or trail running.
I’m lucky that my home base is Salt Lake City, so a few of my favorite places, like Little Cottonwood Canyon for skiing and Park City for mountain biking, are in my backyard. But the opportunity SLC gives me to visit some of the other favorite places like Ketchum, ID and Jackson, WY within a 4-or-so hour drive makes it pretty unbeatable. My dream zone is British Columbia, and one of my all time favorite places to visit – the mountains, the wildlife, the culture, the woods, the ocean, and its “off the beaten path” nature. Everything.
How did you first start getting involved in advocacy work? Why does it matter to you?
As cliché as it seems, I read that Edward Abbey quote “sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul” and I thought, “oh my god that’s me” - I realized I could talk until I was blue in the face - to anyone that would listen - about the facts and the figures of the things and the issues I cared about, but I wasn’t doing anything about them myself. I felt like I could talk to the talk, but I wasn’t walking the walk and once I realized that in my self I wanted to change it.
Advocacy work is important because it’s a way to take ownership of your opinions; politicians, your family, businessmen, real estate developers, policy makers, all have their own opinions too, and it’s important to show different sides of the coin, and committed, passionate people (advocates) are the ones that can do that.
What are the big issues you care about that you’re working on right now?
Outdoor Industry Retail Advocacy As an outdoor industry professional, I feel like we have a huge responsibility to support and protect the outdoor spaces we heavily promote the use of, and I’m aware that protection and support can come in many shapes and forms. Outdoor spaces are truly our bread and butter and without them, where do people use our products? Where do people participate in adventure tourism? People are looking to brands to tell them what issues are important in the outdoor space – when Patagonia, or The North Face, or Keen sheds light on an issue, people pay attention. But it’s not happening enough, and it’s not happening across the board. That will really take a larger culture shift to make this (having a top line brand put its stamp of opinion on an issue and/or taking a strong advocating stance for it) the standard for every industry retailer aspect from brand to brick & mortar to web retailer. For the past 6 months or so I’ve been part of a team of four (with team members from IMBA, Simms Fishing and Backwoods) that has been pitching a digital platform that will help connect outdoor industry consumers with non-profits, organizations, and advocacy groups working in the outdoor space using retailers of all shapes and sizes as a conduit.
Wildlife Refuge Acquisition – Please visit AlaskaWild.org & WeAreTheAcrtic.org In the summer of 2014, I took my first trip to Alaska – I drove from Salt Lake City, north to Glacier National Park and then went straight west to snake through interior BC and then the southeast AK/BC border to YKT and into Alaska. I always say that the trip changed my life. Alaska is representative of so many things that are important to me; rural communities, tourism, and wildlife, so when I was introduced to one of Alaska Wilderness League’s Board of Directors through Outdoor Industry Association’s Leadership Academy, I jumped at the chance to get to know their staff members on the ground. The following week I was on extensive phone calls between Conservation Alliance, Alaska Wilderness League, and groups of outdoor industry activists (Patagonia and Keen) in an effort to activate the outdoor industry to ask for protection of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge by telling President Obama of the need, in hopes he will designate this area with the strongest possible protections before he leaves office.
The Arctic Wildlife Refuge became a federally protected area in 1960 but its coastal plain is increasingly targeting for oil drilling. Drilling in the refuge will displace migratory birds, caribou calving ground, and have tons of impacts on the diverse wildlife in that region, not to mention ruin an unspoiled landscape that will never be recovered. If my experience in south central Alaska is an indicator of how special the arctic slope is… then it definitely deserves our attention.
Let’s say you care about protecting a place near you. Where do you get started, if you’ve never done advocacy before?
When I got started I reached out to organizations that had meaning to me – I think it’s important to note that this can come in many forms; many organizations will have volunteer communications you can sign up for, so you will be aware of upcoming campaigns and associated messaging and toolkits that come along with it. I like to get my hands dirty, so I would usually try to hunt down a specific staff members email, or find a mutual connection in my network to connect me with that person who can get me integrated into the actual programming needs. Every organization has different needs and different processes, but a simple email expressing your drive to be involved is definitely the first step
What are your best tips for getting involved in advocacy or citizen engagement?
Commit yourself to engaging with a cause that you’re passionate about at least two hours a week. There is not a young person I know that does not have the ability to give two hours of their time up to partake in some kind of citizen engagement. In fact they probably have a lot more than two hours – two hours is probably less time than you watch TV on a Sunday, and I guarantee you it will be a lot more rewarding.
Find something self-serving. Yeah, I said it. If you’re engaging in something you’re extremely passionate about it should be motivating and empowering but also really fun! And who doesn’t like fun? If passion doesn’t drive you, what does? Is it education? Is it a networking opportunity? Does it create an in-road to a job you see down the future? Because advocacy, volunteerism, and citizen engagement can be all those things.
Don’t get caught up in negativity, rhetoric, or politics that are second hand; be educated about your cause – education and an eloquent delivery of information is advocacy’s biggest advocate. If you get into a conversation/debate/argument education on facts will always trump opinion.
Be a true active participant in whatever battle it feels like you’re fighting (or want to be fighting); signing a petition for wildlife bridges across a major highway is great, but why don’t you:
Sign the petition and also,
Write an email to your governor/senator/president/governmental department to let them know their constituents care about this issue. Most of the time you can find this information as public record or uncover it with a little digging and research.
Respectfully share on social media! It can be such a great tool for connecting issues with new people. I think many of us involved in advocacy are just naturally inquisitive people who are always delving into issues because they genuinely want to know what’s happening with them, and then becoming so passionate about something that you become an accidental advocate – which has kind of been my path – but there are so many people out there that just don’t have these things on their radar. They might not know that there is a community rallying behind a cause, or a simple one line in an article might resonate with them, or you’re presenting them with a new set of data they haven’t seen. You just never know how you might reach and what difference that person could make.
Find the initiating organization and ask what you can do. With smaller organizations and grassroots initiatives, they usually have a million different roles that need filling whether that’s designing or hanging posters locally, writing and spreading press releases, offering to help them with a social media strategy. In this case (of the wildlife fencing) volunteer your time, be an extra set of unpaid hands that will help get the project farther and utilize less government or private resources (making it more likely to happen).
All of these things take 15 minutes, max (less the volunteering portion).
What would you tell someone who feels like their involvement wouldn’t make a difference?
There is opportunity to make a difference everywhere - I truly believe that. I think one of the issues we are facing right now is more people feeling like they can’t make a difference than those who believe that they can. Look at my experience above… I’m not doing anything crazy, but I’m doing something; I work in marketing & communications so I offer up that experience to organizations I’m interested in, that are doing work that resonates with me. Start small, offer your expertise and skill to an issue, initiative or organization and grow your knowledge and with it your advocacy from there. “Making a difference” isn’t always obvious, black & white, and most importantly, immediate.
Current favorite piece of gear: My apple green Juliana bicycle
Favorite social media tool: ScheduGram
Next destinations on your bucket list: Summer 2016: SLC to Tofino Road Trip; Stretch: Hike Kilimanjaro