Utah State Today regularly highlights work created by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. The following story was published in The Utah Statesman prior to its inclusion in Utah State Today.
On Sept. 19, four women gathered at the mouth of Green Canyon to mountain bike and catch the evening golden hour.
The outing was planned by Utah State University’s chapter of Backcountry Squatters, a group for women and nonbinary people who enjoy the outdoors.
Utah State’s chapter was organized this fall after president and founder Abigail Mackay approached the Backcountry Squatters organization last spring. Mackay wanted to bring a group to USU that would give women a space to be outdoors without feeling intimidated or dependent on others.
“Backcountry Squatters is about getting women outdoors together without barriers to entry, like having the outdoors as a male-owned and male-dominated space,” said Mackay.
Emily Lane, the club secretary, said the club wasn’t created to exclude men.
“That’s just not the space we’re trying to create,” said Lane, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate men and all that they do.”
Anais Barrientos, the club’s outreach and social media coordinator, said when she first began participating in outdoor activities, she felt out of her league.
“It was very daunting,” Barrientos said.
And she’s not alone in having this experience. The club’s board members shared common experiences of feeling embarrassed or intimidated during outdoor recreation activities where women were outnumbered or not included.
On Lane’s first-ever backpacking trip, she ended up being one of only two women and felt embarrassed to use the bathroom outside. Aside from one female counselor, she was the only squatter.
Mackay said while learning to ski, going with a group of boys proved frustrating, and she often left without the results she wanted.
“Now I can ski any black diamond I want,” Mackay said. “Most of that was done in a ski class where I just hung out with women, and they encouraged me in a non-threatening way.”
Growth in outdoor abilities often comes through comfort. Without knowledge, gear or trust in yourself, the outdoors can be a dangerous place.
Mackay said relying on others such as a male partner or friend can leave you in a bad situation if something were to happen.
“A lot of women that I know, and in my own life, heavily rely on either my male friends or my male partner for knowledge in the outdoors,” Mackay said. “That not only puts me at a lower place but is also unsafe if I were ever going to do something and they got hurt.”
The group wanted to come together to share knowledge and get better at different activities. More than anything, though, they just want to have fun doing what they love.
“It’s important to empower women to do things they enjoy, and develop skills that they might not be able to develop in a male-dominated space,” said Barrientos.
The club has plans to go on a backpacking trip or a long day hike this fall, and discussions of backcountry skiing lessons and private yoga sessions are also in the works. Most activities will be more casual, with weekly local outings.
Living in Logan provides a lot of opportunities for outdoor recreation, but the group acknowledges it can be hard to get groups together — that’s why the USU Backcountry Squatters are here.
“I think it’s really helpful to be in a community with gals that have similar interests and are similar minded, and be able to grow your abilities,” said Barrientos.
The club is welcoming newcomers and has an Instagram account, @backcountrysquatters_usu, where events and information are posted.
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