Empowering Outdoor Families: Interview with Aly Nicklas

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In today’s ultra-technological society, it’s become challenging to raise families who feel connected to the outdoors. In response, filmmakers Aly Nicklas and Alisa Geiser have created a project called Born Wild, a multi-faceted endeavor which aims not only to inspire, but to empower families to grow outside. Through a series of films and an online hub for connecting outdoor families, Born Wild, a project that was funded successfully through Kickstarter, aims to inspire imagination in urban settings, explore how families pass on an outdoor heritage over generations and demonstrate how raising kids connected with their innate wildness leads to happier and healthier lives. I sat down with Aly, one of the directors, producers and co-founders of the project, to talk about the challenges of raising an outdoor family, and how Born Wild will provide the knowledge and the tools to make it easier.

THE CLYMB: Let’s start at the beginning of the project. What was the inspiration for the Born Wild project and how did you get started?

ALY NICKLAS: It came together pretty organically. Shannon, Brooke, and I met last summer on a backpacking trip, and they asked me to shoot some photos for an article they wanted to write about parenting in the outdoors, and my first reaction was, “this would be an amazing short film!” It just took off from there—it very quickly became this much larger thing where we realized there was a need for this type of content and inspiration. We’ve really let the project lead itself. It was going to be one short film and that was it, but it’s grown exponentially since then.

The Clymb: Tell me about the three films. How do they differ from each other and what themes did you want to convey in each?

AN: The first film in the series is about these three moms, and we’re structuring it as an introduction to this lifestyle. We want to present prescriptive information like how parents make it happen despite the challenges, and explore the benefit to kids and parents of spending time outside—it connects us as families as well as connecting us with the planet. Conservation is a big part of our message.

The second film in the series, which we are filming in August, is called “Wild Inheritance”. We’re going backpacking with three generations of one family into the Wind River Range in Wyoming. It’s about the legacy we leave our kids and what that impact is on a family from one generation to the next. We have Grandma Jan and her five kids and numerous grandchildren— her children are raising their kids in a similar way that she raised hers. It’s cool to see what that long-term impact is. For a most of the grandchildren it’ll the most time they’ve ever spent in nature, which is going to be really interesting from a transformational perspective.

The third film is focused on finding wildness is urban environments. Our question is “How do we find wild everywhere?” and how do we create space for creativity and possibility when surrounded by city streets.

static1.squarespaceThe Clymb: What outdoor experiences did you have in your childhood that shaped your philosophy with the project?

AN: I grew up in Alaska, and my parents were very avid outdoor people. My father was a huge skier and my mother was into swimming and canoeing, so we were fishing, camping and backcountry skiing since I was born. I had a very free-range childhood, and spent every spare moment outside. When I was really young we didn’t have a TV, and I had to be dragged inside at the end of the day. I spent a lot of time building tree houses and getting lost in the woods. Reflecting back, my childhood was pretty wild. I was given a lot of room to let my imagination create whatever worlds I wanted to and it shaped who I am and what I care about in very tangible ways. And now, as an adult, I still spend every minute I can outside and have a deep desire to protect our wild places, and I believe that’s very much because it’s how I was raised.

The Clymb: What was the spark moment where you wanted to turn this into a film?

AN: I originally thought it would be something short and simple, but then we put it out in the world and it took off in a really big way. It was clear that Born Wild could contribute towards this larger movement of reconnecting kids with nature. I get messages from people who’ve said following our project has really empowered them to get out there with their kids and how wonderful it feels to be outside. As a filmmaker I’m committed to telling stories that can impact social change in a positive way. This project is an amazing amalgamation of so many things that I care deeply about: health, the human/nature connection, conservation and our need to play, which shouldn’t be overlooked. I think as adults, we forget that we need to play too. Getting outside with our kids allows that to happen.

The Clymb: How do you think that mothers can best maintain their own active outdoor lifestyles after having children?

AN: The outdoor lifestyle can be intimidating without kids let alone them into the mix, and some of the best advice I’ve heard was from Brooke Froelich, who appears in the film. She said, “If somebody is feeling stuck and feeling intimidated about where to start, I think the best way is to just go. To just put one foot in front of the other. To make little goals that are attainable and find easy trails and not big mileage and just keep on making those goals and keep on moving forward. Before you know it, you’re on top of a big mountain.”

That can be a lot of things. You don’t have to go out and rock climb or summit 14ers or anything that’s too much for you, but try incorporating it into your daily life and making it a priority.

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The Clymb: What are some of the challenges that outdoor families face in today’s society?

AN: Making time for the outdoors—even if it’s going just to the park. Our culture is very results-focused. That’s not a bad thing, but it can detract from our quality of life. That’s the beautiful thing about spending time outdoors: the benefits that come from that…you can’t quantify them. There’s a soul part of us that is really nourished by the outdoors and, as humans, we need that. Time gets in the way. But if you’re spending your whole life trying to check boxes off does it really equate to living? How many skills can your kid have? How many classes can they take? I believe that’s important too, but I also think there’s a lot to be said about not structuring every minute of the day.

The Clymb: How do you feel that Born Wild might have an effect on families who don’t have close access to a national park or wilderness area?

AN: That’s another huge barrier to the outdoors: location and money. Our objective with the third film is to illustrate the fact that we can find wildness everywhere. As a kid, you don’t need to go to a national park to inspire your imagination. If there’s an empty lot next door with a bush, for example, you can turn that into a castle. I think finding families that are making it happen despite those challenges—showing them and leading by example—will be inspirational and helpful for families who don’t have the same access as people in a more privileged position.

The Clymb: Beyond the films, what resources will you be offering parents who want to provide more outdoor life for their children?

AN: We’re building out an online magazine which will be a website of information, how-to’s, philosophy pieces, stories, interviews, short videos and gear reviews. We are creating a hub for outdoor parents. We want to have a map where, say you live in San Francisco, you can find community organizations and sign up to do a group hike. Our goal is to break down some of the barriers that get in the way as well as facilitate families getting outside and finding real connections in the world. The films are just one piece of a much bigger project.

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The Clymb: What’s been the most exciting part of the project and how is the project going to continue after the films?

AN: The most exciting part of the project is hearing from these parents how Wild is empowering, influencing and inspiring them to go outside with their kids and realizing that they can do it. When we see other people doing things, we think “maybe I can do that too.” Having a community grow around the project has been so inspiring and gratifying.

Follow the Born Wild Project on Facebook and Instagram.