The Great Malden Outdoors: Making outdoor recreation more accessible to communities of color

Darren Josey, founder and CEO of First Seed Sown, heads up the campaign known as The Great Malden Outdoors. Photo by Nia Harmon.

By Nia Harmon

Cities across the United States saw an increased use of outdoor spaces during the COVID-19 Pandemic, including the Greater Boston area. However, these outdoor spaces have not been maximized by all communities based on what is called “The Adventure Gap,” which measures the percentage between different groups that participate in outdoor activities in comparison to their makeup of the U.S. population.

Working towards bridging that gap in the city of Malden is Darren Josey, founder and CEO of First Seed Sown, a sales and marketing company, and the new outdoor education and empowerment campaign, The Great Malden Outdoors. The campaign is designed to help break down barriers of entry to outdoor sporting for communities of color.

With 14 years of experience working in the outdoor industry, Josey is encouraging members of his community to appreciate the city’s natural beauty.

Darren Josey walking the path at Waitt’s Mount Park. Photo by Nia Harmon.

“I think Malden is a great example of a very diverse town ethnically and socioeconomically, that has amazing outdoor recreation that the residents here are not using because they don’t know it exists,” said Josey. “There are [also] other barriers to entry. That’s part of what I do with municipalities to understand those barriers to entry to get more folks out here.”

Among these other barriers are the costs of outdoor sporting gear, entrance fees for athletic competitions, and an overall lack of education on outdoor safety, according to the National Health Foundation and Outdoor Industry Association

As someone who frequents Malden’s outdoor spaces, Josey has noticed The Adventure Gap first hand.

“We are about 12 percent of the U.S. population and about eight or nine percent of the percentage of people recreating outside,” said Josey. “When I come to areas like Waitt’s Mount, I don’t see eight percent of the rock climbers being Black. I see zero.”

This realization prompted Josey to band together with his city about this imbalance and the preconceived notion surrounding outdoor sports.

“We have to change that mindset [that] not only is rock climbing and outdoor recreation for everyone, [but] we [also] have little feeder programs and businesses set up to get you outside,” said Josey. “I think [it] is just a beautiful opportunity and [I] want to maximize it here for all the residents.”

After the initial pitch at Malden City Council’s September 5th meeting, Josey has garnered additional support for The Great Malden Outdoors campaign from Irene Yee, National Geographic photographer and avid outdoor adventurer.

Photo by Nia Harmon.

Yee hopes to spread awareness about the green spaces offered in the city.

“I think that’s really interesting to see what a town outside of Boston can offer, ” said Yee. “We can all enjoy it and it’s so accessible. You can have a very mini doable adventure for you.”

The photos for the campaign show Malden families and outdoor athletes using these spaces in various ways, including rock climbing, biking, and enjoying the hiking trails.

“My focus of my photography always is to inspire everybody to get outdoors, but also to let them know that they belong out here too,” said Yee.

The Great Malden Outdoors campaign will also focus on the preservation of the outdoor spaces in Malden.

Waitt’s Mount, which Josey and his family frequently visit, has notoriously been a hangout spot for generations. Atop the mountain, the rock space is littered with broken glass from decades of partying and drinking, potentially making it unappealing for families with children.

“Like anything, if you love a place, you want to make sure that it’s taken care of,” said Josey. “The more people that are using it and have a connection to this natural space, means that there’s more people to advocate for it, to keep it clean, to bug the city to keep it clean, [and] to bring other community groups here to help maintain it.”

To do this, Josey has enlisted the help of Malden City Councilor Ryan O’Malley. O’Malley oversees Ward 4, where the beloved Waitt’s Mount is located.

“Malden has some of the lowest protected open space in the Commonwealth,” said Councillor O’Malley. “I think we have the third lowest out of any municipality. The ones that we do have need to be maintained [and] they need to be utilized.”

Darren Josey points out an old rock climbing bolt at Waitt’s Mount that shouldn’t be used. Photo by Nia Harmon.

This campaign will prioritize the preservation of Waitt’s Mount and other outdoor spaces, starting with leadership in the city.

“Partnering with DJ and The Great Malden Outdoors is a great opportunity to be stewards of our parks,” said O’Malley. “I think that DJ is in the perfect position to bring that connection to our community as well as pass on the baton of stewardship.”

With the help of O’Malley, the campaign looks to further the work of conservation. “I would definitely be willing to help with cleanups, hosting events, and leading different things,” said O’Malley.

Through this collaboration, The Great Malden Outdoors is looking out for future outdoor adventurers.

“I really want to remove these barriers to entry so that current and future generations can enjoy the outdoor recreation here in Malden,” said Josey. “If we don’t do that, these public green spaces are in danger of being paved over and being taken over by a private industry.”

To learn more about the campaign and its mission, you can view Darren Josey’s presentation to the Malden City Council below:

Nia Harmon is a journalism student at Emerson College. Her work appears as part of a collaborative partnership between the “Beat Reporting Across the Media” class taught by Mark Micheli at Emerson College and the Neighborhood View editorial staff.

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