The Tennessee-based Abundant Life Adventure Club Leads Outings Focused on Creating a More Inclusive Community in the Outdoors.
Sitting by the waterfall, Tiffany Lipscomb deliberately put away her phone to soak up the scenery around her. She wanted to remember the atmosphere—the damp smell of the cascade and the sound of laughter in the background. “I just wanted to take in as much of that as I could, because if I never get a chance to get there again, I want to remember it with all of my senses,” Lipscomb said.
This was Lipscomb’s first time visiting the mountains surrounding Asheville, N.C., with Abundant Life Adventure Club, a Tennessee-based outdoor club started in 2018 to enable more Black people to experience the outdoors. On her trip with the club, Lipscomb was in awe of the distant ridges, stretched out as far as the eye could see, and she climbed higher than on any other hike she’d ever done. “That, for me, wasn’t just a hike,” Lipscomb said. “It was a transitional time, period.”
Abundant Life was started by Dr. Kim and Claude Walker, both frontline professionals based in Nashville. The couple organizes weekend outings like hiking, biking, camping, and horseback riding with an emphasis on wellness and mindfulness. Their efforts focus on making sure things like having the right shoes or bike is not a barrier for people wanting to get outside, something that has been especially important in the last year. If it’s an activity that requires more specialized skills, they find the guides to lead the adventures. If there’s an activity members want to try or a place they want to visit, the Walkers find the best places and coordinate everything.
“We’re here to serve our community,” Kim Walker said. “A lot happened with the pandemic: politically, socially, loss of family members, loss of jobs. Getting outdoors and being in a community where you feel safe to express these things is really therapeutic for a lot of people.”
Despite both working essential jobs in the middle of a pandemic, the Walkers dedicated their spare time to building up Abundant Life and providing an outlet for their community. Seeing people’s faces when they experience something new makes it all worth it. “It’s actually changing my life in real time looking at them,” Claude Walker said.
In just two seasons, the club has grown to over 180 members. The outings have become so popular the Walkers went from hosting meetups once a month to hosting an activity almost every weekend, sometimes two at a time. In this way, the Walkers embody what it truly means to be an adventurer, seeking out new experiences for themselves while creating a welcoming space for others to join.
That’s exactly what Lipscomb found—a community of people who enjoyed getting outside together and who looked like her. “When I joined Abundant Life, I couldn’t be quiet about it,” she said. “They create an environment that’s so inviting that I don’t know anybody that has come once and never come back again.” Lipscomb said she knows of at least six other people who joined the club because she couldn’t stop raving about it to everyone she talked to.
In providing this space where all of the details are already taken care of, the Walkers hope to demystify the outdoors and demonstrate that everyone truly belongs. Part of that mission means figuring out why they weren’t seeing more Black people like them out on the trails and in parks. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which desegregated public spaces, is still a recent memory for so many. “Just because you say this law was passed and you can go, doesn’t mean that you’re welcome when you go there,” Claude Walker said. “People’s perceptions of things happening back in those days really affected the lineage down the line.”
Brittany Cole, a friend of the Walkers and member of the club, watched as the couple took their love for the outdoors and grew it into something they could share with others. Despite claims that the outdoors are for all and nature welcomes everyone, Cole said not everyone sees it that way. She explained that Abundant Life creates an environment where members don’t have to feel alone or unsafe in an unfamiliar setting. “A lot of the historical barriers to wanting to do anything outdoors and just having accessibility to parks and outdoor recreation, it feels like a long time ago but in essence it’s one generation ago,” she said. “My parents experienced a lot of those things.”
The Walkers were able to tap into those feelings in order to create a space for many people who didn’t feel the outdoors were for them. “There are still communities of people, particularly Black and brown people, who don’t feel that sense of welcome that you belong,” Cole said. To have a group led by individuals who understand those feelings, have the expertise to plan outings, and who put the time in to make sure everyone enjoys themselves makes all the difference.
It is this intentional cultivation of community that keeps people coming back. “Abundant Life is family for a lot of us,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a second home. And we have Claude and Kim to thank for that.”
All photos courtesy of the Walkers. Some images were taken before COVID-19.