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The National Park Service (NPS) recently had a revelation about its visitors.  There were way too many white people taking advantage of the nation’s parks and not enough minorities. According to a 2011 University of Wyoming report, only about one in five visitors to a national park is nonwhite, and only about 1 in 10 is Latino.  It seems as though the NPS realizes that not only are there websites geared towards people of color that enjoy things like hiking, mountain climbing and camping, but if they market to them, they will come.

In a recent New York Times article, Park Service director Jonathan B. Jarvis, spoke about new goals in achieving more minority visitors. “We know that if we get them there, it can be transformative,” Jarvis said in a telephone interview. A single positive park visit, he said, can create a lifelong pattern.

Well in order to get “them” to visit National Parks, the NPS has reached out to organizations online that cater to minorities with an interest in camping and hiking. Sites such as GirlTrek and American Latino Expeditions, along with big box retailer REI have joined forces to help out in getting more minority visitors. Not only is the NPS looking to increase its minority visitors, they’re also looking to hire and educate minorities about careers with the Park Service.  Although there were no statistics on how many people of color work for the Park Service, it is said to be “largely white”.

From The New York Times:

“The future is diverse,” said Scott Welch, a spokesman for Columbia Sportswear, which provided clothing to expedition groups this summer and has been working with GirlTrek. “If you want to be a brand for the future, you’ve got to embrace that.”

But the effort to diversify also touches some deep cultural grooves in American life that may not be as quick to change as a moisture-wicking outdoor shirt.

Many white Americans who grew up going to the parks had towering figures of outdoor history — not to mention family tradition — blazing the trail as examples. And those examples, like Daniel Boone and the fur trappers of the Old West, tended to be white.

The idea of roughing it in a tent, however, can feel to some people like going backward, said Ms. Cain, a first-generation American who said the stories in her family about escaping the hard rural life still resonate.

Chelle Roberts, 40, who was on the Olympic Park expedition with her sister, Crystal, 33, co-authors of the blog BrownGirlsFly, said there was also simply more of an appetite for vacations in cushy surroundings. “People want a lot of things we associate with modern luxury,” she said.

Growing up in Upstate New York, my family made a handful of trips to Niagara Falls (which is not a part of the National Park Service), but I didn’t experience anything close to camping until I was an adult. Needless to say, it was definitely an experience I won’t forget, but also not one I’m running out to experience again.

One complaint I commonly hear from people is how expensive camping and hiking gear is, which could have something to do with why a lot of people don’t participate in the activities. Also, the National Parks aren’t free. In realizing that minorities do enjoy things like camping and hiking, the National Park Service is attempting to take a few steps to educate the masses, but are they also looking to do it to increase their bottom line? Sure African-Americans and Latinos enjoy hiking, but the Park Service thrives off of government funding as well as charging up to $80 for a pass.

Clutchettes, have you visited a National Park? Are you a fan of hiking or camping?

  • A Daughter of Yemonja

    My family and I (when I was younger) frequented the parks often. We fished, camped, hiked explored nature’s magnificent gifts. We grew up in Portland, Oregon. Now, I am married with my own children and we camp, hike fish explore the gifts of nature…in fact yesterday all of us just went ona zipline obstacle course at Red Mountain Park in Birmimgham, Al. with our children ages 5 & 7. Yes, we were the only African family, but it was and never is a point of focus for us. We just go and have amazing adventures and special family bonding time. We even go camping, fishing and hiking in our backyark and around our land.

    Naturally, we “people of color” are of nature, our ancestors and many of our brothers and sisters on the continent continue to live one with nature. It is in our DNA it is our birthright so we should continue to take advantage.
    Peace and much Mother Earth love

  • apple

    and watch white people be mortified when they see minorites in their park and then try to find a new park.. for some reason i just can see a white couple jogging in my mind, saying “oh god, the park is becoming ghetto (just because non white people are there, no other reason)..thanks obama” hahaha watch.

  • omfg

    i’ve been to a few national and state parks – death valley, sedona, yosemite, grand canyon, etc.

    i am usually the only black person there. i see asians and some people i identify as latino.

    i don’t see what camping has to do with going to national parks. most of the notable ones have hotels in or immediately outside the park. i’ve never camped at a national park. i stayed at a hotel (there are several) inside the grand canyon. some of these parks even have higher end very expensive hotels.

    they should not make a visit to a national park about camping. if the only overnight options were camping, a lot of white folks wouldn’t go too. most of the more well-known parks provide a variety of accommodations, including camping options.

    in terms of costs, the parks may cost a certain amount per car. they really aren’t that expensive. it’s getting there and paying for lodging that can add up.

    for me, this is one of those instances where i’m sick of trying to get black people to open their minds/eyes to “new” things. why do we always need a special invitation to participate in these things? i find it sad that some people’s minds are so ghettoized and limited that they won’t even allow themselves to experience the natural magnificence of this country. and it is magnificent.

  • http://www.browngirlsfly.com Chelle Roberts

    Hi Clutch Family!

    This is Chelle from BrownGirlsFly, one of the travelistas highlighted in the NY Times article.

    Thanks so much for sharing the news about the National Park Service and it’s efforts to diversity its pool of visitors! I agree that exposure to the value of the park system as well as access (location far from some urban areas or travel expenses) can be a factor in why more people from our community do not visit the parks more.

    I have to say, though, after spending the past 3 months prepping for our trip to Olympic National Park and learning about the whole park system in the process, that the NP Service really does have alot of passionate people trying to engage visitors of color.

    Since early on in the history of the parks, there’s been a strong sense that ALL Americans own these little slices of heaven hidden in our country. And, many of the parks/monuments in the larger system (i.e. 401 properties).

    They actually have cultural researchers, historians, archeologists, etc on staff who are studying and identifying new places to preserve/protect – not just natural but cultural as well.

    Their focus is not just on American historical sites/events, but also significant black, latino, native american, asian, etc. And, so few of us are going there to see/experience this.

    Shelton Johnson, a black Park Ranger at Yosemite has been researching and sharing the Buffalo Soldier history there — and has been on NPR, Oprah, Ken Burns’ documentary — in his efforts to spread the word. But, the black visitor numbers at Yosemite are hovering at 1-2%.

    Now, after having worked on this project, I am infected by the collective passion of the people I’ve met at NPS.

    Despite the access/funding issues impacting our communities, there are still a fair number of people with expendable budget who, when they save for their big vacations, choose the islands over the natural beauty we have here at home. Why not do a trip out to nature every once in a while?

    Oh and … not all the parks are as expensive as you think. The entrance fee to Olympic National Park is $15 per car and provides 7-days access to the entire park — which is the size of Rhode Island.

    Thanks & Stay Fly!
    -Chelle Roberts (BrownGirlsFly)

  • Jalesa Montez

    “, there are still a fair number of people with expendable budget who, when they save for their big vacations, choose the islands over the natural beauty we have here at home. Why not do a trip out to nature every once in a while?”

    Maybe because people choose not to b/c they don’t have any interest? Just a thought….

    Not everyone is interested in camping out and hiking in a park…and there are plenty of other parks in people’s states where hiking and camping trails are FREE.

  • http://www.myblackfriendsays.com myblackfriendsays

    I’ve been to a few national parks. My favorite part of camping is drinking beer around the campfire. Though, I will say the night sky out in the wilderness is phenomenal.

    I appreciate the outreach of the Park Service, but I agree with the previous comment that people shouldn’t be waiting around for an invitation.

  • http://www.browngirlsfly.com Chelle Roberts

    Of course. I’m not expecting everyone to go. :-)

    I was just responding to the author’s suggestion that much of the resistance to visiting the parks was about money. And, was just pointing out that this was not the case for all travelers of color. Some are traveling and spending significantly more than the cost of a trip to a park for their own travels.

    Having been to 30+ countries, I used to have a bias towards more exotic locations. And, this year, our travels have taken us to unexpected places in North America. While there’s always a place in my heart for laying on the beach in the Caribbean, or gallivanting through my favorite European city, I now have a much deeper appreciation for some of the places here at home.

    I shared my comments above because of my own (sincere) change of heart. I suspect many of us don’t realize what some of these parks have to offer … I’m not talking just beautiful landscapes but resort-like lake-front accommodations with clean comfortable beds, bedside fireplaces, and high-end restaurants. The parks are not just about hiking and camping anymore.

    I know many people who would give nature a try, if they about these other options. And, for them, I think it’s important for us to talk openly about our community perceptions — for good and for bad — about the national parks. We might discover a few myths worth debunking in the process.

    All that said, if the outdoors is not someone’s thing, it’s not their thing. I wouldn’t want to change them.

  • BeanBean

    I love national parks! I really do wish more blacks would take advantage of these beautiful resources. It’s our country too!! I never realized how much I liked camping until I got a chance to roast hot dogs over the fire, and drink cold tea, and fish!! It was very relaxing!

  • Pepper

    First they need to put away the ‘Bears!!’ LOL LOL I’m kidding….I love national parks!! Yellow Stone, Yosemite, Redwood National, and the Rocky Mountains are beautiful!!

  • Pepper

    Don’t forget about SMORES!!

  • Brianna

    Upstate NY!!! Woot Woot!

  • http://gravatar.com/designdiva40 paintgurl40

    i went camping when i was a girl scout, and it wasn’t bad. nowadays my idea of roughing it is going without cable or internet.

  • Ranger Shelton Johnson

    You don’t have to camp or hike in a national park in order to enjoy it. There’s great beauty that’s visible, audible, and tangible from all park roads and trails. There are short walks into meadows and forests. You don’t have to backpack or climb Half Dome to experience that beauty. Every national park in the United States has hotels and other lodging choices either in the park or just outside.

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