On a cold, misty, April night in Seattle, members of Outdoor Asian, an organization dedicated to building an inclusive community of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who enjoy and appreciate the outdoors, gathered for a fun evening of learning about nocturnal predators and their habitats, finding resident owls, and, yes, making s’mores.
Joey Manson, center director at Seward Park Audubon Center, says the center’s owl prowl events are meant to be a fun celebration that introduces communities to its programming, resources, and space. Earlier this year, the center hosted a Latino Outdoors owl prowl and is in the works of another with LGBTQ communities in the Seattle Area.
“At Seward Park Audubon Center we want to build a sense of community for the people we serve,” Manson says. “Our center’s connection to the community is vitally important to me. People come to our park and facility because they care about their neighborhood. For those reasons, we make sure, through our programming, that their voices are heard.”
Three years ago, Manson met Glenn Nelson, Audubon Washington board member and frequent visitor of Seward Park Audubon Center. Growing up, Nelson developed a deep connection with Seward Park. He lived up the street from the center and, later in life, took his daughter on nature walks there. Given the importance Seward Park played throughout Nelson’s life, one of his missions is to connect communities with the space. Since Nelson and Manson met, Nelson has been a strong advocate for implementing Audubon’s equity, diversity, and inclusion priorities to the center’s programming and community engagement.
“One of the things Joey and I have worked on since the three years he’s been here is connecting communities to this place,” Nelson says. “People that grow up around here develop a deep connection to Seward Park Audubon Center because its programming considers communities of color and the barriers they face when engaging in outside spaces.”
At a meeting earlier this year, Nelson suggested that Seward Park Audubon Center get in contact with Joan Hong, development director and co-founding member of Outdoor Asian. Hong mentioned to Nelson that Outdoor Asian wanted to put on an event that would attract a variety of age groups and people with varying levels of comfortability with outdoor spaces. She was also inspired by Nelson’s recent story, “Birding is Booming. So Where Are the Black Birders?” After discussing a potential collaboration, Manson and Hong decided an owl prowl was the best way to attract the audience Outdoor Asian wanted.
“Our ultimate goal, which is very similar to Seward Park Audubon Center’s, is to empower communities and expand opportunities for them to engage in outdoor spaces,” Hong says. “For some people, these experiences have not been accessible. We want to change that by creating an inclusive community of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors, a place where we have often times felt underrepresented.”
As the group walked through the forest at Seward Park, they spotted a resident Great Horned Owl and shortly after stopped at an owl pellet repository to examine the regurgitated leftovers and talk about owl diets. Even before the walk concluded, the excitement on people’s faces was clear. Hong says that this was the moment attendees realized that “wilderness is near, and wildlife is just in our backyard.”
The walk came to a close on the shore, where Seward Park’s raptor handler John Prucich introduced the group to his two non-releasable Eurasian Eagle Owls. Members of the Outdoor Asian group kept asking questions about the birds’ diet, flight speed, and migration patterns. “This is my first time seeing an owl up close and personal,” and “This was one of the coolest experiences ever,” were just a couple of the comments Prucich overheard as he held the owl.
As the event came to a close, with people drinking hot chocolate, Nelson, Hong, and Manson each reflected on the evening. Hong said that this would not be the last time Outdoor Asian engages with Seward Park Audubon Center. Nelson followed up by reiterating the center’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, and a hope that more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders would visit Seward Park in the future.
“It’s important to us here at Seward Park Audubon Center that everyone can feel comfortable in nature,” Manson said. “That way, they can develop a personal connection to the environment.”