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Hundreds expected at BIPOC-friendly festival in King County

The Refuge Outdoor Festival aims to show that outdoor recreation is for everyone, no matter your background or how you identify.

CARNATION, Wash — Geared up and ready for her first ever solo backpacking trip, Chevon Powell was excited.

But instead of focusing on the journey ahead at a park in Vermont, Powell, a Black woman, said she was pulled over by police as soon as she was on site.

"The police said it was unbelievable that I was in the outdoors," Powell told KING. "It was one of the scariest moments of my life."

Powell said she knows there is a lack of diversity in outdoor recreation.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's most recent National Survey of Fishing, hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation, only 5% of the more than 23 million participants who travel to enjoy the outdoors across the country are African American, Asian or another race.

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Powell could have let this incident change her view of the outdoors and her passion to explore.

"I took that and knowing my skills, I said, 'let me do something to create a safer space for people that look like me to be connected to the outdoors,'" Powell said. 

Powell, who splits her time between Seattle and Houston, said this was how Refuge Outdoor Festival started five years ago. It's a weekend-long outdoors event complete with camping, hiking, biking and a silent disco. It welcomes everyone with a welcoming invitation to members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.

The festival takes place at King County’s Tolt-MacDonald Park Aug. 12-14

"A lot of people you know, more people than you would expect, have had situations like this, especially BIPOC community or queer trans folks have experienced this in the outdoors or just in life," Powell explained. "We've all gone through these different situations."

Powell said Refuge gives everyone the chance to connect with the outdoors and make new friends in a safe and welcoming manner.

"It's a full weekend of activities," Powell said. "It's all centered on outdoor recreation community building. We have over 30 workshops. We have Saturday musical performances and a silent disco."

The event gathered 125 people in its inaugural year in 2018 and even gathered some virtual attendees and a limited in-person crowd last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, Powell said Refuge is expecting more than 300 people.

"We're creating the opportunity for people to pick up skills and learn how to safely recreate and feel comfortable going to state and national parks," Powell said.

There is still time to register for a day or the full weekend event. For more information, click here.

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