Exploring the Outdoors and New Opportunities

January 17, 2022
Onome Ofoman, Conservation Corps Trail Crew Member
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Exploring the Outdoors and New Opportunities


Every Christmas before I turned 10, my parents would load up the car and drive my sisters and me 400 km (about 250 miles) from Lagos to our village in Edo state to visit our grandparents. We drove through the tropical rainforest dotted with red sand anthills and thick bush as far as the eyes could see. My sisters and I never stopped to explore these forests because there were no marked trails. Instead, our minds (and parents) filled in the gaps, positioning the forest as a place housing dangerous creatures. As a young child, inherited fear and inaccessibility held me back from exploring the world.

After many years of solo backpacking outside Nigeria, including more than a few bear encounters, fear of wild animals no longer holds me back from exploring. Instead, I am held back from exploring Nigeria by my fear of humans: humans coerced into crime due to unemployment; humans laying in ambush on deserted roads and forests to kidnap people for ransom; humans that turn violent at a moment’s notice when in the presence of a solo female traveler. I was reminded of this insecurity when I moved back to Nigeria in 2019, and I saw it get worse after the economy was decimated following the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the insecurity did not stop me from staying active outdoors. I ran daily along the Lekki-Ikoyi bridge and went on monthly hiking trips, notably Mt Cameroon, Chappal Waddi (the highest point in Nigeria), making sure to only go to places where I felt comfortable. A grueling work schedule stopped me from exploring, and by the time I got my work schedule back to a reasonable 40 hours per week, security had gotten so dire that my parents cautioned me against hiking.

I realized how important physical activity and time in nature are to me when I couldn’t go hiking anymore, and so I started looking for opportunities outside Nigeria to work outdoors. I found the Trail Conference Conservation Corps through a Google search and spoke with managers Tori Finn and Ben Sugar. Six months, 100 constructed staircases, and 300-plus miles of hiking later, I can say that I’ve rekindled my connection with nature. I said yes to many new experiences and let fear take the backseat: I learned to drive on the highway, bought and sold my first car, hiked in the dark to catch phenomenal sunrises on Mt. Beacon, tagged along on impromptu birding adventures in Constitution Marsh, and made many new friends in the process. I rediscovered the therapeutic capabilities of green spaces while noting that activities like these were not as accessible back home. Perhaps that is why I welcomed each new outdoor activity with open arms—by virtue of being in the U.S., I was privileged to access these spaces and I vowed to never take this privilege for granted.

One of the most important things I learned this summer from Dr. Dick, a veteran and wilderness first aid instructor, is to never let fear stop you from doing what you love. From the fear of leaving a stable job to the fear of moving away from my community and driving on the highway—I had to tackle all of these to fully access the outdoor spaces in the New York-New Jersey region. In the process, a whole new world in ecological conservation has opened up to me.

So, what’s next? I’d like to lean into this newfound interest and learn about how land trusts can be used to create accessible state parks in Nigeria. I believe that everyone who seeks the outdoors should have the opportunity to connect with nature, and for those who don’t seek nature yet, nature should be brought to them. This might sound like a pipe dream, but as I learned this summer, anything is possible once you let go of fear.