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Reader Participation Day: How Would You Promote The National Park System?


From time to time we hear that visitation to the National Park System is on a downward slide, that those who do visit lack the diversity reflective of the nation as a whole, that younger generations are not visiting en masse.

Part of the problem could be that the National Park Service does not have a marketing branch. If you could open that branch, how would you market and promote the parks to build not just overall visitation, but visitation that reflects the country's diversity and various age groups?


Over on Traveler's Facebook page a number of folks have commented on this question, including one who doesn't believe there's a problem with diversity in the park system, that trying to attract more minorities into the parks reflects a "racial agenda."

Is that the case? If more people of color aren't introduced to the parks and become stewards and advocates for them, what will happen in the coming decades when White Americans are a minority?

As reports prepared by the University of Idaho's Park Studies Unit note, there's a huge disparity in the cultural makeup of national park visitors. Here's a snippet from a 2012 survey the university did on visitors to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado:

Six percent were Hispanic or Latino. Ninety-four percent of visitors were White and 4% were Asian.

And this from Yellowstone:

One percent were Hispanic or Latino. Ninety-six percent of visitors were White and 2% were Asian.

And this from the university's study on Barriers to a Backyard National Park: Case Study of African American Communities in Columbia, SC:

According to the 2010 U.S. census 42.2% of the city of Columbia, 45.9% of Richland County, and 27.9% of the South Carolina population identifies itself as African American. A visitor survey conducted by the National Park Service Visitor Services Project (VSP) at the University of Idaho revealed that African Americans composed only 1.3% of the visitor population during spring 2005 (Le & Littlejohn, 2005).

And this from the same study:

Participants were asked about issues that would keep them from visiting a national park such as Congaree NP. While some barriers to visiting the park are real and others are perceived, lack of knowledge about the park - and consequent misperceptions – as well assafety concerns posed significant barriers. Other issues included fear of animals, lack of racial diversity at the park, economic issues, and the need for transportation to the park.

So, should we be concerned with the cultural makeup of visitors to national parks, or is that an overblown concern?

According to this morning's NPS Digest, Sesame Street has Oscar and Elmo and Big Bird helping out.

Without thinking too long on it, I would have Obama do a Public Service Announcement where he would say the mission statement of the NPS and then follow up with saying these parks belong to us for visitation, education, exploration, imagination, relaxation, etc...the history and beauty is ours to take care of and enjoy. I would maybe push the idea visiting the NPS units that are close to home and when you take a trip see what NPS units are close to your destination.

Regarding diversity and the National Parks I have often wondered how much cultural curiosity has to do with the problem.

Is curiosity a cultural trait, a family trait, or caused by your experiences in life? Has anyone ever studied curiosity? Who has it and why? Curiosity may be a hallmark of western european civilization, but it is not applied by all to all topics. I have no curiousity regarding opera or classical music, prefering country western. I have no interest in sports and the statistics that so many memorize. I cannot explain why. People often asked me why I rock climb or hike up big mouttains, miserable as doing it might be. I finally realized I don't have a clue. All I can come up with are excuses.

I think the big question for national parks and other natural ares is how to make people curious about nature regardless of their backgrounds.

I like the thoughts in Roger's comments. What age group has the most curiosity...for anything? Children. They can also be the most relentless in determining a family's use of time. A program that combined education in the schools, promoting regional vacations, and environmental stewardship would be a snowball!. The kids learn something new, the family saves gas, and we have a lot more eyes in the parks watching for vandalism.

It might even create some jobs.

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