Trail Builders: Dudley Edmondson

By Linda Picone

It was birds that fi rst got Dudley Edmondson interested in the outdoors in a big way. As kind of an unusual urban high school senior living north of Columbus, OH, he got interested in birdwatching. As he got older, he started traveling around the United States to see birds in other environments, especially the migratory shore

birds in the Chesapeake Bay area.

In about 1989, when he was trying to figure out where to establish himself, “I realized that I wanted to live in an area where the natural world was more easily accessible, in an area that had abundant wildlife,” he says. “Northern Minnesota is a place where I could go and have nature anywhere; Duluth seemed to be the place

to go. I had this idea in my head that I was going to become a nature photographer.”

Edmondson has explored plenty of the natural world in the past nearly 20 years — and today he is a nature photographer, whose photos go into magazines and books in the United States and Europe. After many years of “day jobs,” he’s now fully self-employed and his work reflects his passion for the outdoors.

The more time Edmondson spent in the woods and on trails, the more he realized that he wasn’t running into many people who looked like him: He’s African American. He believes that many African Americans don’t have the same connection to the natural world they once did — and he wants to help change that.

“My goal is to get people of color, but particularly African Americans, as vocally concerned about the environment and conservation eff orts as whites are,” he says. “For the most part, we’ve lived in urban environments for so long that we’ve lost our connection to the natural environments.”

Although the black community in the United States has stories from previous generations about the outdoors, they often are stories about slavery, working the land, sharecropping … “We never really had an outdoor recreational piece to our culture. We need to go back and make that a positive connection to the natural world.”

One of Edmondson’s fi rst eff orts was a book, Black & Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, published in 2006. He found 20 African Americans who are very involved with the natural world and profi led them, with the goal of showing adults and young people that there is a place for people of color in outdoor recreation.

Besides his photography, Edmondson is much in demand as a speaker at schools, for state natural resources agencies around the country and for any groups that are interested in getting everyone outdoors. “I want to get nature on people of color’s radar screen,” he says. “I’ll talk to anyone who will listen, anyone.” He’s also a board member of the Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota.

He hopes to encourage students of color at northern Minnesota colleges to think about majoring in environmental education or pursuing a career in conservation and he’s nudging the DNR to reinstitute a program it used to have in which African American students would job-shadow DNR employees.

Edmondson lives in the Lakeside area in the east end of Duluth. Although he no longer keeps offi cial track of all the birds he sees (he thinks he probably had 400-500 species on his list at one point), he does keep a list of wild creatures visiting his yard, which he has landscaped to attract them. He says he has spotted about 130 species of birds, 20 species of butterflies and at least 10 species of dragonflies by his pond, in his bird boxes or visiting the fruit trees in the yard.

His activities today go well beyond birdwatching, including kayaking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, trail running and more. “Whatever excuse I can find to getoutside,” he says. “It’s better than sitting inside and staring at my computer.”

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