7 Nonprofits Devoted To The Great Outdoors

There might not be as much unspoiled wilderness in the United States as there once was, but myriad areas still exist offering recreation and enrichment for outdoor enthusiasts. In addition, places that have been developed for agriculture or industry can sometimes be restored, allowing organic flora and fauna to thrive once again. In no particular order, here are some groups dedicated to promoting and improving America's natural spaces.

#1 in our overview is the Grass Valley, California-based Bear Yuba Land Trust, a community-supported organization that helps conserve the Bear and Yuba River Watersheds. In addition to protecting and defending these resources, the Land Trust promotes conservation by offering access to natural areas, and by providing education about environmental topics such as flowers native to the region.

With the assistance of local businesses and volunteers, BYLT has saved thousands of acres of Sierra Nevada and foothill forests, oak woodlands, meadows, riverbanks, and farms and ranches. The organization has also built and maintained miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, which can be explored via an online portal maintained by the group.

Next up, at #2, is a Denver-based group called First Descents, which has a mission to provide life-changing outdoor adventures to young adults who have been impacted by cancer and other serious medical conditions. The group also makes this service available to various emergency and healthcare workers.

First Descents' programming has included skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado; kayaking and rafting on the Main Salmon River in Idaho; and rock climbing in places like Florrisant, Colorado and the Shawangunk Mountains of upstate New York. In addition, the organization allows people to plan their own adventures and invite their friends. The group also offers some online content, such as a first aid essentials class.

Coming in at #3 is UpaDowna. Located in Colorado Springs, this charity seeks to provide access to outdoor adventures that empower individuals, create healthier communities, and foster a respect for the environment. The group promotes activities like cycling, hiking, and climbing to people of all ages and abilities.

Examples of programming offered by UpaDowna include the Pedal Party, a weekly summer cruiser ride through Downtown Colorado Springs, and introductions to SUP, or stand-up paddleboarding. The organization provides a fleet of boards, paddles, and personal flotation devices, so people can try the sport before committing to purchasing gear.

Our #4 entry is Pittsburgh's Venture Outdoors. This non-profit group works to ensure that as many people as possible in the southwestern Pennsylvania area are able to experience the positive aspects of nature. Part of this mission involves providing inspiration and education. As such, the organization offers classes in topics such as plant identification, first aid, animal camouflage, environmental stewardship, yoga, and leadership.

Venture Outdoors also leads a variety of group activities. These include various forms of hiking, including backpacking expeditions to remote locations, birding walks, local history tours, and modern-day treasure hunts called geocaching, which are recreational quests that utilize Global Positioning System technology. The organization also provides chances to go kayaking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fishing.

At #5 is the Outdoor Lab Foundation, based in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The group exists to support the Jefferson County Outdoor Lab Schools, in which elementary, middle, and high school students are immersed in nature-based academic settings. The overall mission is to foster in children a sense of self-discovery and a greater awareness of how they fit into the world around them.

Outdoor Lab programs introduce young people to environments like forests, marshlands, and mountains. The youngsters are led in activities such as studying plants, team building, and learning to fully use one's senses. Students are also taught the values of integrity, commitment, awareness, respect, and empathy, abbreviated as the acronym ICARE.

#6 on our list is an annual summit in Jackson Hole, Wyoming named SHIFT, which stands for Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow. SHIFT is produced by the Center for Jackson Hole, a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and anxiety by encouraging people to interact more with nature.

The speakers at SHIFT explore issues at the intersection of recreation and wellness. Panels at the summit include discussions of topics like how the outdoors can improve psychological resiliency; how recommendations to spend time in natural spaces can be successfully reframed as health care interventions; and ways that sedentary lifestyles negatively impact the mental health of children.

Finally, our #7 is Natural Lands. The nonprofit seeks to save open spaces, care for nature, and connect people to the environment in eastern Pennsylvania. It maintains its lands using tactics like controlled burning of invasive species, planting grasses, trees, and shrubs, and maintaining trails. The group also places an emphasis on making the outdoors safe for people of all identities and abilities.

Among the organization's accomplishments is the Bryn Coed Preserve, a swath of what was once farmland in the greater Philadelphia region. When the farmers opted to divest, Natural Lands bought some of it, protected the rest using conservation easements, and then improved the area by planting thousands of trees, which provide habitat for birds and help prevent erosion and watershed contamination.