CARY — Beky Branagan is an avid hiker who can walk out her back door in Cary and follow a greenway to Umstead Park.
Lately, shes been leading groups of black residents from across the Triangle into the woods, too, as part of a national effort to foster the African-American communitys connection to the outdoors.
Branagan, 43, is one of 13 national leaders with the group Outdoor Afro, which aims to expose African-Americans to the health benefits of exercise and to highlight the importance of green space in their communities. The group hosts activities such as camping, hiking, biking and fishing.
Branagan works in communications at Duke University and lives in Cary with her niece.
In April, Branagan gathered with the leaders of Outdoor Afro for the first time in California, where they learned about conservation, trip-planning, social media and other topics.
Q: What is Outdoor Afro all about?
It is a national group founded in 2008 by Rue Mapp in the California area, and it uses social media to connect with African-American people who enjoy being outside.
She started a website and a blog and started doing outdoor activities in the local area, and she decided last year to expand to the rest of the country. She put out a call for leaders in different areas of the country, and thats where I came in.
Q: How and when did you start the local chapter?
I started last year in a small way doing activities in the Triangle area. In January, we started the Outdoor Afro meetup (meetup.com/outdoor-afro-triangle-nc). There are about 70 people on the meetup right now, and we do trips mostly to state parks: Umstead, the Eno River.
We have great natural spaces in North Carolina, and it doesnt have to be remote. Its not just for hiking and backpacking people. Its also gardening and visiting parks. We definitely try to meet people where theyre most comfortable.
Q: Why is it so important to get outside?
Personally, I just love it, but theres definitely plenty of research that talks about the mental and physical benefits of going outside, such as what it does to your blood pressure.
Being active in general is good for you, but there is plenty of research that shows it is good for your psyche to be in green space.
Theres also the idea that people who appreciate the natural environment are more likely to work to preserve it, so there is definitely an environmental and educational side of exploring where you are.
North Carolina is so beautiful, from the mountains to the beaches and everything in between: the wildlife, the trees and plants.
Q: Are African-Americans particularly in need of reconnecting with the outdoors?
I think there are plenty of African-American people that are interested, and its an effort to reach out and find those people who dont know their options or the resources that are available.
I think there are a lot of people interested in spending time outdoors, but this also is an opportunity to spend time outdoors together, and maybe to spend more time outdoors because of that.
Q: Have you always been an outdoors person?
Yes. I grew up in the Adirondack area of upstate New York, and we always had camping trips.
And my educational background is in recreation and natural resources management. I work a desk job now, and this gave me more opportunity to spend time outdoors as a hobby or a pleasure.
I also volunteer with the Girl Scouts; I do training with their leaders.
Q: How was the trip to California?
It was awesome. We all got to all come from across the country and do training and hang out in beautiful Northern California. I got to see some redwoods, so that was a great experience.