Outdoors

4 Outdoor Nonprofits That Are Making A Difference

people spending time in the outdoors

No matter how you choose to enjoy the outdoors, we all share a love of nature and a desire to preserve our planet. We also enjoy helping others experience the wonder of the great outdoors.

It’s important to celebrate all the efforts people make to preserve and protect the planet and pass our love of nature on to others. Here are just four nonprofits doing great work and some ways you can join their efforts.

American Rivers

American Rivers logo
Logo courtesy of www.americanrivers.org

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and works to conserve clean water. They focus on strategic river basins around the United States for maximum impact.

They work closely with local and regional environmental advocates, businesses, and recreational groups to protect and restore wild rivers.

American Rivers was born in 1973 when a group of river runners and conservationists decided to address the reality that unnecessary dams were disrupting and destroying rivers. They consider themselves the voice for waterways and clean drinking water all across the country.

Why American Rivers Matters

We all depend on having healthy rivers and freshwater ecosystems. Yet, over 40% of the waterways American Rivers assessed in the United States don’t meet the national EPA standards. They are too polluted for fishing or swimming.

Many American freshwater species are also at risk. Habitat destruction and pollution pose a threat to fish, wildlife, and even human health, and climate change continues to bring more droughts and floods. American Rivers is fighting to protect clean water and healthy river ecosystems.

American Rivers is working to remove outdated and dangerous dams, restore 100,000 miles of rivers and 1,000 acres of floodplains, and improve clean water for one-third of Americans. These are lofty but achievable goals.

In 2018, American Rivers successfully lobbied to have 13 dams removed. American River volunteers removed 1.87 million pounds of trash from waterways around the country and restored 426 miles of rivers.

How to get Involved

One of the most practical ways to get involved is to volunteer at a river cleanup! American Rivers hosts hundreds of National River Cleanup events all over the country.

If there isn’t already a cleanup event in your area, American Rivers provides all the resources you need to host a successful National River Cleanup. Help protect the rivers and water ecosystems you hunt, fish, hike, and camp around.

You and the whole family can take the River Cleanup Pledge. Teach your children to pick up pieces of trash they see on the sidewalk, around their schools, or anywhere they are out and about. Those pieces of trash often wind up in the rivers. The pledge asks you to commit to picking up 25 pieces of rubbish in 25 days (of course more would be even better).

Go online and share your River Cleanup Pledge experience. See what others are doing in your state to protect and preserve the rivers. Many people post photos on the “virtual landfill” page, showing off all the trash collected.

Big City Mountaineers

Big City Mountaineers logo
Logo curtesy of www.bigcitymountaineers.org

Big City Mountaineers (BCM) was born in 1989 when founder, Jim Kern, planned a backpacking trip into the Montana wilderness with his son, Drew, and one of Drew’s friends. When Drew’s friend couldn’t come, Jim decided to invite a kid who would not otherwise be able to have such an adventure. During that trip, the idea for Big City Mountaineers was born.

In 1998 BCM hired an executive director and founded hubs in San Francisco, Minneapolis, Portland, Boston, and Seattle. Every year BCM takes about 700 youth from the inner city on expeditions, overnight camping trips, and other backcountry adventures.

Big City Mountaineers as served over 9,000 youth, hosted over 800 expeditions, led over 100 overnight camping trips, and much more. All told, inner-city kids enjoyed over 42,000 nights in the backcountry, thanks to Big City Mountaineers!

Why Big City Mountaineers Matters

There are countless physical, mental, and spiritual benefits to spending time outdoors. Children who get to spend time outdoors are better at using all five senses. They learn how to be resourceful and creative. Kids with ADHD tend to focus better after spending time in nature, which has positive effects on their performance at school and in everyday life.

Some studies suggest that spending time outdoors in nature improves concentration, decreases aggression, and alleviates stress and depression.

Big City Mountaineers helps urban youth experience nature while teaching critical life, leadership, and collaboration skills. BCM pairs each youth with an adult mentor to make sure every child has a positive and healthy experience.

A unique aspect of Big City Mountaineers is their desire to tailor each experience and expedition to the needs and goals of the kids. If a group of youth wants to become the first in their family to go to college, BCM customizes the curriculum and experiences to emphasize goal-setting, perseverance, time and task management, and other relevant skills that will help the kids achieve their goals.

Groups of teens with histories of abuse or neglect experience programs that emphasize self-care, rest, and other experiences that will serve them emotionally and psychologically.

How to Get Involved

Whether you have time or finances to offer, there are many ways to partner with Big City Mountaineers. Consider giving part of your summer vacation to mentor an under-served youth during a week-long backpacking and camping expedition in stunning locations.

There are also opportunities to mentor 8 to 12-year-olds on their first overnight camping experience. Imagine the joy of introducing a child to camping, s’ mores, camp cooking, and telling campfire stories.

If you don’t have much time, consider hosting a fundraiser to help sponsor a Big City Mountaineers expedition. If you live in a city with a BCM base, consider giving some time to help with gear management, special events, and general in-office responsibilities.

No matter what your skills, talents, and resources, there is a way for you to get involved and make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth.

The Appalachian Mountain Club

AMC logo
Logo curtesy of www.outdoors.org

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) is committed to helping “people of all ages and abilities to explore and develop a deep appreciation of the natural world.” AMC has active groups from Washington, D.C. to Maine and they host events all over the world.

Founded in 1876, the AMC continues to fight for conservation because of their core belief that the mountains, forests, waters, and trails “provide recreational opportunities, spiritual renewal, and ecological and economic health for the region.” The AMC believes successful conservation begins by helping people actively engage with the outdoors.

To this end, the Appalachian Mountain Club focuses on encouraging people to “experience, learn about, and appreciate the natural world.”

The AMC has many “arms” to their organization, from trail maintenance and conservation efforts to youth and family programs and guided trips. They even maintain beautiful lodges and huts along some of the most stunning backpacking routes in the Northeast.

Why the Appalachian Mountain Club Matters

Through AMC, members participate in countless outdoor activities, help maintain over 1,800 miles of trails, and support conservation advocacy and research programs. Their conservancy efforts include fighting pollution and advocating for land and riverway protection. The AMC also helps fund research on climate change and efforts to preserve alpine ecosystems.

The Appalachian Mountain Club also has programs for youth, families, and teens! The Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) introduces urban youth of all ages to the outdoors through outdoor leadership training events. YOP seeks to make the wilderness accessible to all youth.

In 2013 AMC partnered with Boston’s healthcare communities to create an Outdoors RX program to serve families in vulnerable populations. The goal is to improve the overall mental and physical wellbeing of the participants by helping them experience nature. AMC hosts nearby events designed for Outdoor Rx participants. Now, doctors can actually prescribe time outside, and they have the AMC to help make it happen!

In addition to conservancy and advocacy efforts, the Appalachian Mountain Club offers family-friendly vacations! They take all the stress and planning out of backcountry vacations with their all-inclusive trips that included daily activities, meals, and lodging. The whole family will have fun, relax, and learn about conservation while making great memories.

How to Get Involved

The easiest way to get involved is to join the Appalachian Mountain Club Conservation Action Network (CAN). Through the CAN, you will learn about and have opportunities to share your opinion about conservation and environmental issues that threaten the Northeastern United States.

Stay up to date about what your government representatives are doing to protect and preserve the environment. Help plan new monuments and public lands.

If you live in the Northeast, find a local AMC club and volunteer at a trail cleanup day or any of their other fun events. There are also countless opportunities to join a guided event or even lead one! AMC has all kinds of guided groups for kids, families, women, adults without children, teens and college students, and many others.

Consider going on a Volunteer Vacation, where you have a unique opportunity to build and revitalize trails, help with conservation efforts, and hang out with people who have similar interests! What could be better than a vacation in the beautiful Virgin Islands, helping protect the planet, and enjoying the company of fellow outdoor enthusiasts?

Heroes On The Water

HOW logo
Logo curtesy of www.heroesonthewater.org

Heroes On The Water  (HOW) “helps warriors relax, rehabilitate, and reintegrate through kayak fishing and the outdoors.” Countless studies demonstrate the therapeutic power of being in nature.

HOW is an alternative therapeutic program for active-duty military, veterans, first responders, and their families to help reduce the impact of post-traumatic stress, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury. Heroes On The Water also provides an opportunity to find much-needed camaraderie and support from fellow heroes and volunteers.

Established in 2007, HOW helps heroes and their families all over America and in Australia and the U.K. go kayak fishing by providing free events and access to the right kayak and fishing equipment. Many studies demonstrate the effectiveness of ecotherapy and many veterans and first responders are drawn to kayak fishing because of the peace and quiet they find out on the water.

Kayak fishing is quiet and rhythmic. There are rarely any loud noises or things to startle the participants, which is especially attractive to people with PTSD and other traumas. Kayaking is also good exercise.

Why Heroes On The Water Matters

Trauma often affects the whole family and can be passed from generation to generation. Often, parents who suffer from PTSD or other traumas have difficulty maintaining a balanced life and healthy emotions.

Alternative therapies that help people engage with nature can help people learn to relax and develop healthier coping skills. Family-focused events help heroes connect with people who have similar experiences and allow them to have positive and fun adventures with their families.

The goal of Heroes On The Water is to heal the person who experienced the trauma and all those in their circle who are being impacted. An increasing number of veterans and first responders are developing PTSD and other traumas. Heroes On The Water wants to meet a growing need for alternative therapies through kayaking and paddle fishing for free or significantly reduced costs.

How to Get Involved

Heroes On The Water is always looking for people to start new chapters, especially in communities with a large veteran and active-duty military population.

Many chapters are always in need of experienced kayak anglers to volunteer as guides for the heroes, coordinators to help plan events, and people with administrative giftings to help run the local chapter.

HOW also welcomes sponsors and in-kind contributions to ensure each chapter has enough kayaks and fishing equipment to serve the heroes and their families. Contact your local branch to learn what they need and how you can get involved! There is great joy in helping others heal and in sharing the beauty of nature.


Do you have a favorite nonprofit that is making a difference outdoors? Or a favorite way you participate in conservation efforts? Share in the comments!

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