Tucked away in the woods of northern Minnesota, Ashley lives, breathes, and teaches outdoor skills as a camp director at Birchwood Wilderness Camp—a family-run business founded in 1958 by her grandparents.
A: My community is full of outdoors women and men, aspiring and experienced, who value time, long and short, spent in nature as a means to sustain their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our planet.
Q: Why outside? Why do you go?
A: Connection with nature is a spiritual necessity to me. It snaps everything into perspective, a gift I am grateful for every day. I know that’s a heavy answer for such a light-hearted question but that’s what nature can do for everybody, regardless of a person’s awareness of it.
Q: What’s your favorite anecdote or story from your time in the outdoors?
A: I might’ve been in my early 20s when someone suggested that I look back on my childhood for clues to possible careers. I dug and I dug but I couldn’t fathom how I could make a career out of playing “explorer” in the woods behind my house, which was my favorite thing to do as a kid.
I found this old photo of me in my parents’ garden—dad’s ski poles towering above me, hiking backpack filled with a few snacks and a blanket I packed myself, explorer hat slouching over my forehead. Now, I laugh because playing in the woods is quite literally my career.
Q: What do you see as the roadblocks for inclusion outdoors?
A: Ego. The ego is oftentimes a primary roadblock for inclusion. With the ego comes privilege, pride, and exclusivity.
Q: How can we, as a community, break those barriers down?
A: We can normalize a more holistic definition of what it means to be an outdoors person. We can listen, support, and amplify the experiences of those who have felt excluded. On an individual level, we can each start by honoring our personal connections with the outdoors, celebrating those of others, and encouraging our friends to find their own.
Q: What do you think are some easy ways for people to enjoy the outdoors that don't require a lot of resources while also being more accessible?
A: Is there a local park nearby? Perhaps a river or lake within driving distance? See if there are any pocket gardens or community gardens in your neighborhood. Can you get far enough outside of your city to enjoy the stars at night? You don’t need much to enjoy nature if you’re focused on finding it.
Q: What cause or organization do you support?
A: Birchwood Wilderness Camp is my business, a small summer camp for boys in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Save the Boundary Waters and Friends of the Boundary Waters are organizations I work as a content creator and influencer to drive awareness to their mission on my platform, writing blogs for them, and taking photos for them. In the past, I've been a part of Q&A panels for them as well as participated in webinars as a local activist for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. My blog is geared towards redefining what it means to be an outdoorswoman.
Q: What are your goals for these causes and organizations in 2021 and beyond?
A: For Birchwood, my goal for the next five years is to develop our own scholarship program for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) children to attend camp. For Save the Boundary Waters and Friends of the Boundary Waters, I'd like to expand my reach to drive more awareness of the issues at hand. For The Cabin Season blog, I'd like to offer one- or two-women's retreats at my camp in 2022. I've seen how empowering it is for women to build community and learn about themselves in an outdoors.
Q: Why the Coleman® Collective?
A: Coleman and I share a similar belief that the outdoors is truly for everybody. It’s for those who want to summit mountains and it’s also for those who want to car camp at their local campground. The level of extremity is not what makes you an outdoors person—the quality of connection to nature does. Connection through trail running, RV camping, rock climbing, picnicking, gardening, wild camping, or enjoying a campfire with friends. A connection that’s unique to you. That’s a message I am helping to amplify as a member of the Coleman® Collective.