Welcome to the Women Outdoors Spotlight Series: a space for women to share their stories, articulate what the outdoors means to them, and encourage other women to say yes to adventure.

This week’s series features Ashely James.

Hey hey, Ashley! Thank you so much for being here! Kick us off by introducing yourself and telling us a little bit about you!

My name is Ashley James (she/her). I was born in Brooklyn, NY, grew up just outside of Richmond, VA and I currently live in Maryland with my partner.

I declared in the third grade that I wanted to be an environmental scientist, and I didn’t stray too far from that goal. I received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies, Master of Public Health in Environmental Health, and I’m currently working as a fellow with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

I also freelance as a journalist writing on various environmental issues.

female sitting in front of Rose Falls

In addition to my career, I have many hobbies and passions – I sing, I play guitar, I write poetry, I play softball, I travel, and most importantly, I love to explore the outdoors!

It’s incredible how many hobbies and passions you have! Tell us what inspired you to start getting outside.

I haven’t always been outdoorsy.

Growing up, my family was not the type to go hiking or camping and while I enjoyed going to city parks and being in nature, I didn’t really see people who looked like me going outdoors, and thus didn’t think the outdoors were for me.

In college, I got exposure to the outdoors working in a marine ecology lab where I spent hours kayaking and swimming.

I also studied abroad in Bocas del Toro, Panama, where I hiked in rainforests, and snorkeled coral reefs on a daily basis. Thus, I acquired a lot of gear and familiarity with the outdoors through school and research but I didn’t explore the outdoors on my own for fun.

Female sitting in front of the Cerro de la Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala

Then, after college, I took an AmeriCorps gap year teaching environmental education to youth in Baltimore Maryland and part of my job entailed taking students out to explore a nature preserve.

That year I started to think about the benefits of being in nature and exploring the outdoors and how many people of color either don’t have access to the outdoors or don’t feel comfortable or safe, including myself – I wanted to change that.

I asked two friends who I knew went hiking if they could take me with them. My very first hike was completely uphill and very challenging. I had to stop several times to take a break, but when we got to the top the view was breathtaking and I felt accomplished and rewarded.

Ever since then, I’ve been hooked.

Ah, I got chills when you said, “I wanted to change that.” You absolutely are. What is your favorite way to get outside?

My favorite outdoor hobby is day hiking.

I love so many activities, especially water-based ones (ie: kayaking, snorkeling), but hiking is the easiest and most accessible.

Female sitting on a rock at the top of the Maryland Heights Trail in Harper's Ferry, VA

I’ve been hiking for 5 years and I love the fact that there are still so many new trails and parks for me to explore, but I can also go back to the ones that are close by and repeat them. I also love day hikes because of the variety of lengths and difficulty levels there’s a trail for me no matter what mood I’m in.

I tend to over think and have high stress levels – going for hikes helps me to de-stress and be in the moment.

Getting outdoors helps me to de-stress and clear my mind also! Can you describe your most memorable adventure to date?

My most memorable adventure was my trip to Guatemala in 2021.

Guatemala wasn’t on my radar, but I decided to go on a whim with one of my best friends – to this day, we can’t stop talking about it. What I loved about Guatemala is the vast amount of opportunities to explore the outdoors and the picturesque beauty.

On the trip, we went ATV riding in Antigua Guatemala, hiked an active Volcano, went paragliding in Lake Atitlan Guatemala, and much more! One of the most exhilarating activities we did was jump off of a 90-foot ledge to plunge into Lake Atitlan for a swim. We also did several hikes where there was a “mirador” or lookout specifically designed for people to take photos.

Female paragliding in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

That trip sounds incredible! *Adding this to my bucket list right now.* Tell us about your favorite trail that you’ve hiked.

This is a tough question because I’ve been on some amazing hikes. However, If I had to choose one, I would say The Sam’s Point area of Minnewaska State Park in upstate New York.

I enjoyed this area because it’s the highest section of the Shawangunk Mountains so the views are amazing. There are also several different side trails and sites to see all in the same area with a variety and landscapes (ie: very small trees, tall pines, and rocks).

Female sitting on a blanket at Sunset Rock in Chattanooga TN

When I went, I got to explore several outlooks, ice caves, and my absolute favorite part was the breathtaking 187-foot-high waterfallI, Verkeerder Kill Falls. I sat on some rocks to eat lunch while I enjoyed the beauty and sounds of the powerful falls rushing down. 

Ice caves and waterfalls? Amazing! What is an adventure (or hobby to learn) that is still on your bucket list?

I would love to learn how to ski or snowboard.

These winter activities are out of my comfort zone and I’m a bit intimidated to try them. Not only am I not a fan of the cold, but I’m afraid of falling and failing epically.

However, skiing/snowboarding is still on my bucket list because I eventually want to face this fear and expand my outdoor experience.

I just started skiing this year and am having a blast! I cannot recommend putting yourself out there and giving it a try enough. What piece of advice would you give to women who are looking to break into the outdoor space?

First, I would say that it is NEVER too late to get into the outdoors. You don’t have to grow up doing outdoor activities to experience it as an adult.

Second, I would say that the outdoors are for everyone!

Many women have intersecting identities that don’t get a lot of visibility outdoors, however, there’s room for all of us and we all belong outside.

Female standing under the Natural Bridge in Virginia

I’ve found it helpful to seek out social media accounts that highlight and celebrate diversity and inclusivity outdoors. Cost and accessibility can also be huge barriers to getting outdoors. You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive gear or do the most difficult activity.

For example, for hiking, you can start off with just a pair of sneakers, clothes you already have, and a water bottle. Also, there may be groups in your area that go on guided hikes for all experience levels and offer carpooling for free or low costs.

Just in case anyone missed it — We all belong outside. Perfectly said, Ashley. Alright, tell the readers where they can connect with you further and continue to follow along with your adventures!

You can connect with me and follow my adventures on my Instagram account @aj4adventure. I share about my own adventures as well as highlight the adventures of other people of color on my page!

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