It’s 6:30 AM. As the sun rises, I prepare for a morning walk along the lagoon at French Regional Park in Plymouth. It is this park that has gotten me excited about sharing nature with women and families in my role as Community and Cultural Liaison for Three Rivers Park District. There is a beautiful path amongst trees, plants and a lagoon filled with natural life that cradles those who walk there.
With each season the circular, 20-minute walk changes from bare trees and a clear view of the snow-covered lagoon to a vibrant canopy of nature yielding the most striking colors of an artist's palette. If it is not the picturesque views that steal your imagination, you may be lulled into peace from the whispers of nature as you journey through.
Along this path, you may meet others with a warm greeting, or you will complete the walk without encountering anyone, but the birds make sure they steal your attention as you wander.
I have worked over the past year to engage Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community members through new and existing relationships with nonprofit, education and other local agencies. Since last spring, my colleague Giannina Posner and I have introduced many women of color to their first experiences in nature within the Three Rivers park system.
We have facilitated several outdoor activities, including camping and paddleboarding at Baker Park Reserve in Maple Plain, canoeing at Fish Lake Regional Park in Maple Grove, nature walks at Hyland Lake Park Reserve in Bloomington, small-group talks at Lake Minnetonka Regional Park, and a women’s introductory camping retreat with Latina and African American women.
The most amazing part of this experience was watching 15 women who were strangers bond in less than six hours of being together. Our cultural differences were not a barrier. In fact, our time together included sharing our personal, professional lives and culture with one another. We networked, danced, sang and shared history about our native communities. This is what I would call being “happy in nature,” and it is my hope to bring more women into the many adventures that Three Rivers has to offer.
I consider myself a concierge for the community, and I have a strong desire to welcome women and BIPOC communities into natural spaces on their terms and at convenient times. I want to take time to get to know the communities I desire to serve, their groups’ needs, and their level of comfort with natural spaces. I tailor activities to the group's interests, working with other park professionals to introduce community members safely and responsibly to new events.
My proudest moment from this past summer was introducing youth and adult members of United Faith Pentecostal Church, who were not swimmers, to canoeing for the first time. The elation of the group could not be contained; there was joy, laughter and a sense of pride. I experienced a keen sense of accomplishment coming from a family of swimmers, knowing that I was asking non-swimmers to trust me and the staff of Three Rivers to lead them safely on their afternoon excursion. Everyone who tried canoeing was grateful for the experience and wanted to come back to the park system to learn more.
As a cultural liaison, I take my job very seriously by providing high-quality programming, care and respect for all community members I serve. Although I grew up in the city, it was my mother who introduced my family to the importance of natural spaces and the discovery of their healing properties. My goal in 2021 is to get as many youth and families out into Three Rivers parks as I can.
I will introduce journaling opportunities, walk-and-talk topics and bike rides with already formed groups. I will also lead a monthly Healing Walk in French Regional Park that will take place on the second Saturday of the month beginning in April. The goal is to reintroduce women and BIPOC communities to nature through a 20-minute walk that will include mindfulness moments and sensory reflection. This concept was in development before COVID-19 and is a response to several calls from community members needing a place to go outside and reconnect with nature.
In 2021, I look forward to engaging communities of color because we have a long history of connecting and being one with nature. Especially now during COVID-19, many of us can benefit from the beauty, activities and solace of nature.
Nicole finds peace and healing in nature — whether she is taking a walk on a trail or photographing lakes and sunsets — and she strives to share that with others as a cultural liaison at Three Rivers. Nicole has previous work experience at nonprofit organizations focusing on education, youth development and community relations. She has also helped spearhead community and demographic information projects to promote cultural value and awareness. Nicole enjoys using her expertise to serve members of the Three Rivers community and create partnerships with faith-based, underrepresented and education communities.
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If you've been to French Regional Park, you may have been lucky enough to cross paths with — or even befriend — longtime park guest Ray Robinson. You can find Ray on a bench by the beach listening to jazz and chatting with fellow park-goers.