With Chev Dixon
When Chev Dixon set out on a 300 mile human-powered exploration of the Hudson Valley Estuary, he hoped to break the traditional confines through growth in Nature and encourage youth from the city to get active and be outdoors.
Describe your first memory of Nature?
My first memory of nature was playing marbles in the dirt with my friends, cricket in the streets, climbing mango trees, cutting class to go sledding in the gullies on school benches and watching my neighbors play double dutch when I lived in Kingston. That all got better when I moved to the country, to Trelawney. There I was able to trail run with bare feet, hunt birds with a slingshot, farm with my family, go to the river and drink fresh spring water. Those experiences have stayed with me until this day.
For urban communities like Kingston or Yonkers, what are the biggest barriers between a life connected to Nature? How were you able to take the first step in overcoming those challenges?
In Kingston, the biggest barriers to Nature were financial, but every kid basically grew up outside. We didn’t have much tv or video games, so we had to be outside, having fun with one another in the dirt. In terms of access to pools, most kids didn’t learn how to swim because no one was there to teach them and all the pools are for tourists.
In Yonkers, things were a bit different, nature was there, but we never knew how to access it. For example, our school didn’t have any field trips or outdoor programs. There’s only one swimming pool in the entire city that wasn’t private. Many people didn’t learn how to swim, which resulted in many of the youth not having that crucial introduction to nature and survival at an early age.
Ultimately, the barriers are financial, lack of empathy, political and ignorance.
Furthermore, most of the nature-based/sustainable organizations in our communities are led by white people who aren’t from the local community. This results in a lack of equity in information, education and access. I’ve worked with various organizations as an educator or counselor and during my time I rarely see local youth or POC. I mostly see privileged youth from the more affluent towns. When I worked for the county as a naturalist, there was very little effort to bring in diversity. The campers were mostly from wealthy neighborhoods.
As it pertains to the Hudson River, many people don’t know how to access the river, not to mention the stigma that the Hudson River is dirty (by those who are aware of its history). Growing up, the people with access didn’t invite others to participate. I believe they didn’t ask us to try activities in the outdoors because they were afraid of us and they were racist, so they judged us. Furthermore, financial barriers were a big issue because we couldn’t afford the equipment to do it ourselves. We didn’t have the gear and we didn’t know how to go about acquiring it.
I overcame these barriers by maintaining an open mind. By relying on my upbringings to stay connected to nature in the simplest ways. I also started a program, the Hudson River Riders, that not only benefits me, but the community as well. It allows me to constantly stay creative. Through that I came up with the Hudson Valley Challenge, to show a variety of activities people can participate in right in their backyards.
For many, the Hudson River has a deep history with urban development, pollution and abuse. How did the Hudson Valley Challenge change your perspective on the current state and natural history of the river and region?
Although the Hudson River suffers from a history of urban development and pollution, there are many ongoing efforts by the people, the government and community organizations to clean it up and preserve this natural treasure. The Hudson Valley Challenge changed my perspective because I was able to get a first hand account of how clean the river is, how rich the history is and what, collectively, everyone has been doing to preserve it. I was amazed at how many islands there are in the river, along with how diverse the ecosystem is.
I was amazed at how many islands there are in the river, along with how diverse the ecosystem is.
In addition, the cleanliness of the river gave me great hope that people are paying attention to our community & outdoor spaces. I can remember clearly that I picked up fourteen pieces of trash while paddling 150 miles. That’s a big deal to me! The evolved landscape of the river bank, the Catskills Mountain in the distance and the history, both from the natives and the colonizers was eye opening too.
Moments from the challenge that stand out?
The highlight of the Hudson Valley Challenge was the community energy and engagement. Eight out of nine days I had people join me. On day one, the rain and wind were extremely challenging but thanks to my trainer, Anthony, and good friend Glynn, I was able to get through and set the tone for the remaining days.
On day two, my best friend Davin and I biked 65 miles. Without his energy and support, I can honestly say I would not have made it through because my legs were hurting so bad. On day four, my mentor and friend, Lyda, joined me for some kayaking. Day 5, the hardest of days, I biked 95 miles alone. That was great because I had no photographers, videographers or anyone interrupting my pace. Although I was alone, I felt the community with me. Everywhere I stopped, the people were supportive and encouraging.
I felt the community with me. Everywhere I stopped, the people were supportive and encouraging.
From the start of the ride, on Walk Way Over Hudson Bridge to the farm stand that gave me maple syrup and apples, to the two bikers I met that were biking to raise awareness on police suicide, and finally the man and women I met when I got to Albany NY at 10pm…they were all extremely inspired by the challenge.
On day eight and nine, I was joined by my mentee, Alex, my mentor Phil, my friend Davin, the Hudson River Riders, the Downtown Boathouse, Hoboken Cove Community Boathouse and Hudson Valley Water-Sports. The support I received from my community was heartwarming. When I got to the dock at Yonkers and at the finish in NYC, I was greeted by many friends and a special guest Yonkers Councilwomen, Shanae Williams. Those final two days showed me that people are paying attention to these kinds of projects.
How does the Hudson River Riders dismantle similar barriers for those who live in the city, but would like to develop a deeper relationship with Nature?
At Hudson River Riders, we’re constantly providing access. We do this by offering free paddling, hiking and environmental awareness to everyone. We dismantle the barriers by going into the community and show our love for nature. We do that through storytelling and by supporting our young people however we can. All of our programs are free, so the finances for participants isn’t a problem, which we know is one of the biggest barriers.
We dismantle the barriers by going into the community and show our love for nature.
By making the age limit to our programs as low as five years old, we introduce youth to nature as early as possible. In addition, we take our youth outside their local environment and take them into deep nature, out of state, to give them an experience they’ve never had before. We share our joy through media, such as photos and videos of other BIPOC having a great time in the outdoors. We educate those who believe the river is dirty by doing live water sampling. I believe nature is everywhere, but some people have a harder time connecting, hence why we take them away.
Best advice for people living in urban areas looking to access the outdoors and experience nature?
Seek out the people or organizations that offer activities. Yonkers is a city, but there are different programs one can get involved with like the Hudson River Riders. If you’re in NYC, then there’s all kinds of running, hiking, cycling and paddling clubs around. Seek and you shall find.
Chev Dixon works with the Hudson River Riders to provide access for a variety of nature focused activities for underserved youth in his community and beyond. He completed the Hudson Valley Challenge in 2022 which was composed of 326 miles of running, hiking, biking, and paddling throughout the Hudson River Valley.