Monday, 31 March 2014

Norwegian Trekking Association: Making Outdoor Recreation More Accessible to All

By Adrienne Blattel

In March 2014, I was traveling and skiing in Norway, and had the pleasure of meeting Lise Corwin, head of Health Promotion for the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT). I was interested in learning more about Norway’s new initiatives to make outdoor recreation more accessible. Through this article, I will share a few thoughts and discussions that I had with Lise.

Lise Corwin, left, head of Health Promotion for the Norwegian Trekking Association

The DNT is Norway’s biggest outdoor recreation organization. It maintains hundreds of backcountry and “frontcountry” huts, ski and hiking trails[i]. Over the past few years, the DNT has come to realize that extending its reach and involving the widest population possible in outdoor recreation will be the key to its future survival. Up until recently, the DNT has had a bit of an “exclusive” reputation – most members are highly educated and relatively comfortably, financially speaking. It also seems a bit “extreme” or “technical” to some; new people can be shy to join, fearing they don’t have the outdoor skills or background necessary to be part of this organization.

The inside of one of DNT's famous and marvelously well-equipped "self-serve" huts.

In order to renew its membership, participants and volunteers, the DNT is making a concerted effort to reach out to all sorts of new communities. Not only will this help the DNT, it will also just be “the right thing to do” - because the health (and general life) benefits to everyone will be immense. These efforts are appealing to government and fit well with recent legislation about integrated health promotion. And it makes financial sense. Lise cited an interesting statistic: for every inactive person who becomes physically active, government health services estimate they stand to save approximately 3 million krones (about $600,000 CAD) over that person’s lifetime. Outdoor recreation is a way to promote health. It is new, exciting and more effective than simply repeating the same old messages to the public.

The DNT is volunteer-run, which means that volunteers build, maintain, service and stock the hundreds of spectacular backcountry huts all across the country. Volunteers are the ones who paint and repaint trail markers along thousands of kilometers of trails every season. And who lead all DNT official outings. As such, DNT’s approach to accessibility involves inviting new members to become not only participants, but also active volunteers – at all levels, including the board level.

Signage along a backcountry trail, Huldraheimen National Park, Norway

DNT is looking for all kinds of new members, including newcomers to Norway, but also people from diverse socio-economic and social contexts in general. In terms of newcomers, DNT has formed a major partnership with the Red Cross. The Red Cross helps get the word out about DNT-organised events and invitations, and is in contact with newcomers from many different countries. Newcomers are much more likely to participate if they hear about an event through the Red Cross, an organization they know and trust. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership, because while the Red Cross can respond to the basic, urgent needs of newcomers, it can’t ensure they will feel fully integrated into Norwegian society. DNT focuses on the integration side of things. The DNT has also worked with local prisons to recruit volunteers, as an example. All DNT activities are carried out on the ground by local chapters, and most often in partnership with municipalities.

According to visitoslo.com, Oslo’s rate of immigration is around 26%, which is not much less than Montreal, which is around 30%. Oslo, the capital of Norway, has a population of 630 000 people. As anywhere, there is a great need to help people integrate beyond just nuts and bolts, to include developing a social network, experiencing local traditions and getting out into nature.

DNT’s efforts are already paying off. They’ve recruited a spokesperson, a recent immigrant to Oslo who is one of the DNT’s only hijab-wearing guides. She’s now on the DNT board. She is able to share important perspectives with the DNT. According to her, some newcomers are anxious about going into the wilderness because there could be dangerous wild animals, or even soldiers hiding out. Others think that there are “opening hours” and that you can’t just get outside when you want. Knowing that these misconceptions exist will help the DNT to answer questions and make nature feel more welcoming to all.

Not only is communication priority, but the DNT has also decided to organize activities that are more accessible, in addition to their regular activities. This includes organizing easier hikes that take place near major centres. They also organized an “Outdoor Party”, a nation-wide day of free outdoor events, and made sure events took place in Oslo’s more ethnoculturally diverse neighbourhoods. In parts of Norway, students in mandatory Norwegian language classes come out to DNT hikes as part of their curriculum.

The DNT is also trying to make outdoor recreation infrastructure more accessible. They have a lofty yet incredibly exciting goal to ensure that there is a hiking/tracked ski trail within 500 metres of everyone in the country! Already, they are tracking ski trails outside of schools and key neighbourhoods.

It was interesting for me to note that the vast majority of Norway’s extensive cross-country ski trails are free, and that access to all national and regional parks is also free. Lise was absolutely shocked to learn that most skiing and parks are not free in Canada – which just helped to confirm my sense of uneasiness with the increasing fees in Canada to access parks and trails.

Norway is already a very physically active society. Cross-country skiing truly is the national sport. The metro in Oslo leads straight to cross-country ski trail networks that are thousands of kilometers long, some of which are lit up at night. Norwegians actually make snow for cross-country skiing on occasion. People get outside individually or as a family to bike, walk or ski on a regular basis.

In Oslo, people can access over 2000 km of free tracked skiing right from the metro!

Despite all of this good news, Lise says that according to government definitions, 80% of Norwegians are inactive. To be considered physically active, you need to get 30 minutes of physical activity per day – this can include walking to work. Hence the new government priorities to promote physical activity as part of being healthy.

It was refreshing and fascinating to speak with Lise and learn more about the DNT’s innovative and successful efforts to reach out to newcomers and to all Norwegians and invite them to enjoy outdoor recreation and all its benefits. A sincere thanks to Lise for her time!




[i] DNT also maintains old lighthouses for visiting and even accommodations.

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