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”.
“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?