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Developing Diversity in the National Parks


Earlier this summer we had a, shall I say 'spirited,' discussion revolving around how to increase diversity in visitation to the national parks. This topic has resurfaced in an Associated Press article that looks at efforts a group is taking to introduce minorities to the parks.

A National Park Service survey in 2003 showed Americans of all backgrounds gave the same reasons for staying away from public lands — cost, distance, not knowing what to do there and lack of interest. But some differences emerged, giving a sense how cultural perceptions of the outdoors might vary among groups.

Blacks were significantly more likely to say they received poor service from park employees or that they felt uncomfortable while visiting parks. Hispanics expressed greater concern than others about having to make reservations too far in advance and about personal safety while outdoors.

Experts say these perceptions can be changed, but only through a concerted effort.

You can find details on Wildlink, which works to bring minority teens into the park system, at this site. The Park Service's report on ethnic diversity in the parks is attached below.


I was thinking about this issue on my Labor Day trip to Yosemite. Believe me, there was plenty of diversity of visitors in Yosemite Valley. Asians, East Indians, Hispanics and blacks. California is diverse so Yosemite visitation is diverse. So at least as far as Yosemite is concerned, I don't think there is any diversity 'problem'. These studies have to be broken down based on the ethnicity of the population surrounding each park. Many parks are in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest, the least diverse areas of the countries. Their visitation numbers may skew the study. The mission of the NPS is to protect the parks, not to engage in some sort of social engineering to make sure they have the politically correct mix of visitors. If anything, the NPS needs to protect the parks from more congestion.

"The mission of the NPS is to protect the parks, not to engage in some sort of social engineering to make sure they have the politically correct mix of visitors."

Well put Kath. The article is about an organization in CA that is trying to encourage inner-city kids to get out and explore nature. Good for them. I'm all for private entities doing whatever they want to promote whatever causes they deem worthwhile.

With an $8 billion dollar maintenance backlog I hope the NPS will keep its collective nose out of social engineering and more properly focused where it belongs: building outhouses and repairing trails and roads.

Somebody get Mary a shovel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the article. It was heart warming to know that NPS is concerned about diversity especially since I believe its funding comes from all Americans. A little less fear and negativity and a little more inclusiveness could really change the state of our public lands.
I don't think creating greater access to parks whether it be ADA issues or that certain populations of our great country don't feel welcome visiting public parks doesn't seem to fall under the category of "social engineering".

ayyyy, here we go again... if tax payers are funding a park system that they aren't using, then the whole system itself, including the backlog of maintenance, is in danger of implosion and becoming irrelevant...

while it is definitely not the role of the park service to create programs that support the creation of linkages to correlate with shifting societal demographics, the park service should consider creating strong partnerships with those organizations that do and do everything they can to facilitate their success, including sending uniformed rangers to make the connection.

i work with environmental education (*not* advocacy... there is a strong and clearly delineated difference) and in my experience, everyone loves nature. i agree with e.o. wilson- humans are hard wired this way. doesn't matter if you grew up in ohio or vietnam. they just don't know it because most of the population in the USA is either suburban or urban these days and think nature is grey squirrels or magpies or canda geese... get people outside for just a little bit and they are more likely than not instant stewards!

maybe stewards that, in the future, will both pressure politicians to take care of the parks better and tell their kids to check their socks for invasive species before heading into a pristine part of our country. oh, and post in the comments on national parks traveler. heh.

I must be the poster child for ignorant, but why is there so much emphasis being placed on RACIAL diversity and nobody seems to be enjoying the CULTURAL diversity that is omnipotent in the park system? Our parks seem to be the vacation target of a populace derived from most every national origin, and for that we can't take enough pride? If world travellers are capable of feeling "at ease" and seem to be competent enough to plan well in advance for reservations, why should anybody put an extended effort into molly-coddling our domestic situation? Let's be perfectly's not just people of color who don't care to make the effort to visit the parks. There are many creatures great and small, who for their own reasons choose not to expend the effort to tour this magnificent landscape. Their loss, but most CERTAINLY not mine. For some people, visiting the great outdoors is limited to popping open a cold one and swatting mosquitos on the patio, deck, or balcony while complaining about the air quality and the traffic noises. More's the pity. And while there is NEVER an excuse for poor service targetted toward a specific racial background, I've heard that particular complaint from certain people time and time again, and I'm beginning to believe that it is nothing more than an attempt to legitimize a mindset. To some people, an enjoyable walk in the park consists of an intermittent smattering of 18 flagstick. To others, a pavement traversing a shoreline is deemed idyllic. A stroll down a remote section of train tracks, a float along a lazy river, the ever-popular drowning of worms, cycling along a city street, or just sitting on the stoop, no one activity is meant to please the masses. And insofar as the comment pertaining to "not knowing what to do when we get there", hell, that's half the fun of going in the first place! If you're just going to SEE the Grand Canyon, that take's all of 5 minutes.........but to EXPERIENCE the canyon takes a lifetime. The same goes for Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, and all the great parks. Maybe the answer is merketing some info-mercial type DVD's to these slugs so then they can as least say they've SEEN it, and didn't care to make the effort to expand on that knowledge.

I'm reading posts like these and upset that I don't have a moment to respond to them because I think there's so much here being missed.

No one has to "coddle", no one has to put effort into some new government program, to talk about how the things they might be doing are contributing to racism in society. Studies by people like Nina Roberts show that there is a race gap in the parks that go across the economic spectrum, that has widened over time, that is not tied simply to class. We know we live in a society that has throughout its history been brutally racist. Many of the customs and traditions in our society were born in a racist age with racist motivations. None of us is immune from racism; from the processes of it. And, since racism is despicable and needlessly hurts us all, it behooves us to stop and think about ways not to contribute to it - no matter who we are! Whether it's you or me, or people working in the National Park Service.

It's not a "social engineering" project; it's about understanding how the ongoing "social engineering" project that is American society might be having consequences in our actions that each of us perpetuates. It's worth talking about and understanding and integating into our current approaches.

And, on another post on religion, on this issue of "majority rule" and too much worry about "minorities," I think if you look at democracy, and it's meaning, it's not possible to have a viable democracy if all people do not have a viable voice. Understanding the way each person who makes up a society is relevant is democratic. The democratic process is a consensus process, not a "majority rule" process. Unfortunately, it's actually neither in our society. It's a rule of the few at the top of society masquerading in a "majority rule" system. The only saving grace is that sometime a court or someone else steps in and decides that these bozos don't have infinite power. We are all on the short end of the stick; we are moreso when we don't take time to understand why that is. Why sometimes we are part of the process of oppression as oppressor and sometimes as oppressed.

I don't have time for this conversation right now, but I couldn't allow these comments to be the last word.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

First of all, I take issue with the study of racial disparity in visiting the parks. Yosemite, being close to the Bay Area, has plenty of diversity. Many national parks are in areas that are predominately white. Since most visitors to the parks are those within a close drive that accounts for much of the disparity. I'd be interested in a breakdown of visitors on a park by park basis. Are those parks that are in areas with a high proportion of Hispanics and blacks experiencing that disparity?

Second, some of the items mentioned by Nina Roberts as reasons why minorities don't visit parks are so vague as to be devoid of meaning. What, for example, does she mean by newcomers "not understanding American rules about use of public space"? Does that mean they don't understand that you don't litter or feed the bears? What? "Access to gear"? Hiking boots and a daypack? What is the NPS supposed to do about that? "Understanding English language signs?" Yeah, let's make more and bigger signs in the parks putting them in Spanish, Farsi, Laotian, and on and on because residents of this country choose not to learn English.

Certainly there's no excuse if blacks are in fact getting poor service from park employees. But Roberts also says that they feel "uncomfortable" while visiting parks. What does that mean? Hispanics don't like making reservations far in advance. Neither do I, but that's the way it is with the overcrowding of the parks.

I question this study and its findings. More information is needed.

The ethnicity rage in general and Afrocentricity in particular not only divert attention from the real needs but exacerbate the problems. The cult of ethnicity exaggerates differences, intensifies resentments and antagonisms, drives ever deeper the awful wedges between races and nationalities. --Arthur M. Schlesinger

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