Barriers to Nature Engagement for Youth of Color


  • Dorothy C. Ibes William and Mary
  • Donald A. Rakow Cornell University
  • Chris H. Kim Cornell University


youth of color, parks, green space, environmental justice,, nature engagement


Nature engagement provides cognitive, physical, psychological, and social benefits. However, there are racially inequitable patterns of participation at nature sites, parks, and other green spaces in the U.S. Among youth of color (YOC), this nature deficit limits their ability to gain the same benefits of nature engagement as their white counterparts. To enhance understanding of the barriers to nature engagement by YOC, the present study examines intensive semi-structured interviews of local community leaders and leaders of nature-oriented organizations. Results reveal a complex matrix of external, socioeconomic, and psychological factors that limit YOC’s green access, particularly accessibility, fear, and social exclusion. Findings support existing literature, while providing additional dimension and nuance that expose larger implications and support the call for increased focus on racial and ethnic diversity, equity, and inclusion within nature engagement.

Author Biographies

Dorothy C. Ibes, William and Mary

Dorothy C. Ibes is a senior lecturer for Environmental Science & Policy at William & Mary, and the director of the Parks Research Lab (PRL). Her research explores ecotherapy and the mental health benefits of nature connection.


Donald A. Rakow, Cornell University

Donald A. Rakow is an associate professor in the Cornell School of Integrative Plant Science. His research focuses on the human benefits of time spent in nature and on the social impacts of public gardens.

Chris H. Kim, Cornell University

Chris H. Kim is a research technician in the Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Sciences at Cornell University. He is the technician for the NE1962 Project, Outdoor Recreation, Parks, and Other Green Environments: Understanding Human and Community Benefits and Mechanisms.