Why Don’t Black People Visit National Parks?

52 comments
August 4, 2011 ‐ By Demetria Irwin

Ever been to Yellowstone in Wyoming? Yosemite in California? Acadia in Maine? If you have, you probably noticed that you were one of the few people of color there. According to “The National Park System Comprehensive Survey of the American Public” released earlier this week,  blacks and Hispanics are severely under-represented in terms of  visitors to the country’s 394 national parks.

Overall blacks account for just 7 percent of visitors to national parks and when you look at parks that have a wilderness focus, it gets worse. At Yosemite, black folks were a mere 1 percent of visitors in 2009.

Centuries old trees that are as tall as skyscrapers, wild animals in their natural habitats and sparkling, unspoiled lakes are just a few of the treats found in national parks. That’s a far cry from the blighted and neglected inner city neighborhoods that many people of color call home. Maybe you’re not a hardcore outdoors person and that’s cool. Personally, I am not the one to be hiking up mountains or spending an evening in a sleeping bag in dirt,  but I do enjoy taking in the beauty of nature and I make a point to remove myself from the NYC grind on a regular basis.

So what gives? Why don’t black people visit national parks? It’s not the entrance fee. Yellowstone costs $25/vehicle for a seven-day pass. Arrive on foot at Yosemite and it’ll cost you 10 bucks. Is it the cost/time associated with getting there? Is appreciating nature just not a priority when you have other more immediate concerns?

Obviously visiting a park is not the most pressing matter in the world right now, but it is something to think about. Changing your environment, even if just temporarily, can make a big impact on how you think and feel.

Oh and if you are interested in learning more about getting in touch with nature and all that good stuff, check out OutdoorAfro.com! Super cute site and very informative.

 

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  • CaptainObvious

    It’s because they don’t want to get their Jordans dirty.

  • FemaleBOOTYInspector

    Amazing how black people are analyzed for every little thing. We DON'T go to the national parks because we don't an INTEREST in them! Simply put. Let white folks enjoy nature and it's WILDlife!! Bears and cougars love to pounce on them for entering their habitat (where these national parks are anyway)

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  • greenandgray

    If you haven't been to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky and taken a tour, you are missing out. There is a black interpretive ranger there who gives the most amazing tours. (can't remember his name, but he was a drill sergent in Vietnam). His people have been associated with the cave for generations and you will get a cultural and historical lesson.

  • greenandgray

    as a now middle age white woman who used to work for the National Parks, I HAD to read this article and see if it answered the question. i noticed its true and have wondered why. i grew up in multicultural Orlando, so really noticed how whitebread Park visitors are. one year in Grand Teton (near Yellowstone), i only saw ONE black family the whole summer! I don't think it is financial for some people b/c lots of black people go to Disney and its not cheap. so i still don't know why. anyway, if you haven't been, give them a try.

  • Steve

    Something like 30% of all black males are convicted felons by the time they reach the age of 30.

    That statement says a lot.

  • mrose

    I am so glad this article was written! I fell in love with hiking (which I'd been wanting to do for years) while visiting my brother in LA and have been looking for groups to go with in IL (African American groups preferably) to no avail! I would love to experience some more of the beautiful places Illinois has to offer, but not alone. It is so hard to convince your own people how much they'd love the peacefulness and how spiritual being in nature with God's creations feels! I have white friends who can't believe I've never been to Starve Rock which is less than an hour away! Just because it is a national park does not mean it will be so far away or even cost you much money!

    I brought a book last summer called 60 Hikes Within 60 miles of Chicago and as soon as I find someone to go with I intend on visiting these local spots. We as African Americans need to be more open minded when it comes to experiencing new things, ESPECIALLY nature!!! Even if it means starting off small and exploring local forest preserves and hiking/biking trails! I sent this article to some family members and friends a couple of years ago and still, no takers!
    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1077/is_11

    This is a great article that talks about the benefits of us getting out into nature from Ebony Magazine some years ago. All I know is I am anxious to find someone to enjoy the trails with and hopefully, one day, I will find a BROTHA, an African American man, that I can enjoy the beauty of this amazing Earth God has given us with and one day we can show our children the same! I want my children to enjoy and respect our planet at least as much as I do!

    Amen and God bless the people who fought and still fight to preserve our natural areas so we can enjoy them!!! Get outside and enjoy!!!

    • roadlesswandering

      Great response…mrose. Have you ever thought about creating a meetup group? It's very simple. All you have to do is go to http://www.meetup.com and pay a small fee and you can have people who are interested in hiking sign up. Or there are other outdoor enthusiasts groups on meetups that are predominately black. I am sure if you sign up for a group that already exists and offer to lead a group, they would love that. If you post on a outdoorsy group, you may get more responses.
      Just a thought!

    • check for local chapters of the National Brotherhood of Skiers
      most have canoe and hiking trips during the off season, you might be able to find a contact/lead for black outdoors groups

  • darlene

    Well nature is beautifull…looking at the stars at night…hearing the sounds…i love the outdoors and i grew up poor. I know a lot of white people who do not like to camp. I grew up on welfare..only had one family trip to up north michigan and we slept in the car. I love to camp as an adult and i was not raised adventurously. I also no not one black person who enjoys camping. Maybe it is a white thing…but nature is a free and beautiful thing and all should enjoy!

  • Jayda23

    I can do the outdoors, I have before. I grew up in the country! …I just don't have any money to travel to all these places!!! Probably like alot of black people. I would love to go to Yellowstone and other national parks, but right now, when I do have enough money to travel, its usually not that far away, and a national park isn't # 1 on my list.
    I mean, I would stay on the most traveled paths, not camp in a tent, and not go anywhere by myself.

  • Dina

    "It's got nothing to do with race. Only with what one can afford and have the time for. Education does go a long way towards appreciation of nature, but then a good education is almost always a reflection of ones' parents net worth. "

    totally disagree with this comment, I made it through college on scholarships, it had nothing to do with my single parent's income.

  • coolrelax2

    I think that people of color (Black, Latino, etc.) DO go to parks….they just might not be national parks. I visit local parks all the time with my family and I see a lot of other Black folks there. The parks that we frequent are more heavily programmed – there are playgrounds, miniature trains, carousels, nature centers, boating and fishing, etc. But I wouldn't drive for hours to go to a park, and I for damn sure don't want to be on the ground overnight. I want to enjoy myself and go home.

  • This article exemplifies part of the problem.
    The National Park Service is about so much more than outdoor adventure experiences in states many people would never find themselves naturally drawn to. A clear problem is information and exposure. The park system offers so much in Eastern and Southern states. Drawing more attention to historic sites, battlefields, monuments, memorials and seashores would better appeal to non-nature enthusiasts and also include topics that are more inclusive of African American history and culture. I had to stop and think about whether I'd even been to an NPS site; I've been to many, but they're not immediately distinguishable from the National Trust, National Register, Ohio Preservation, Virginia Historical, etc, etc sites I visit. Of those the NPS sites were the least known; no brochures at libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, museums, schools and few at tourist attractions, travel and information centers.

    When people think national park service, they almost solely think of the badlands and canyons of the traditional and long-standing parks that are mainly clustered in places like Utah, Nevada, Montana and more remote locations in California. The ones that have always been focused on. People don't think east of the Mississippi; where the majority of blacks still reside and where the greatest population concentrations of most groups are.
    There are black clubs that hike, canoe, camp, ski, spelunk but are minimally aware of the offerings of the nps sites in their region. There are black historical, genealogical groups and HBCUs that are involved in researching for, maintaining and aiding with NPS sites, but few people know. There are plenty of blacks who are history nerds that aren't aware of the monuments and historical sites that touch on anything other than natural, frontier, Native American or Civil War battlefield history (reenactments).

    So, basically they need to market themselves better. Create better contacts with schools, showcase the diversity and regional extent of what they have to offer. More exposure at least plants in people's minds the awareness that something exists, and if it is within easy travel distance all the better.

  • Ricky

    ^^^ Spoken for truth.

  • ray

    MAYBE WHITE PEOPLE LOVE TO TAKE A DUMB IN THE WOODS, LOL!

  • Ricky

    Exactly. Too many black folk are afraid to venture out of their comfort zone. It's never affected me. Me and my girlfriend have been to the Grand Canyon and up in New Hampshire. There will always be people who stare because they're not used to seeing black folks doing these kinds of activities. But not doing these types of activities is how stereotypes and myths about us get started. It's also why our kids fall in the lower percentile of the classes because we don't take them anywhere other than Disneyworld. Our kids can benefit from educational vacations like these. 99% of the people I encounter on these excursions are usually very friendly and helpful, whether it's sincere or they're just enjoying the novelty of having rare contact with black people is another matter. What matters is, can you let your guard down enough to have a good time.

  • ray

    ONLY BECAUSE ITS A WHITE WONKY THANG! LOL

  • Olivia

    Did anyone see the show that Oprah and Gayle did on this? http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Oprah-and-Gayles-B

    Oprah said it best about Camping…"Black folks don't like to pretend they are homeless" LOL!

  • anders norsman

    The blacks don't go to national because ther is nothing wreck or ruin.

  • chad

    Its instinctive for black people to not like being out in the wilderness. Living in the bush isn't exactly a "walk in the park".

  • dude

    CAUSE… THAT WHITE WIMMIN, MOTHER NATURE…BEEZ ALL RACIST !!…AN SHEEIIT !

    NO UM SAYIN'S ??

  • dave

    I don't get the replies to this article. If you don't go, you are missing it. You don't have to go…. but blaming bears and thinking of the forest as a constantly dangerous place is not only wrong, it is cowardly. Get informed, respect nature, but go. It is a wonderful, enriching experience.

  • chris

    People Like you are the reason racism is still alive and well…what a joke

  • chris

    Wow kww you sound Like a black person who is trying to make you sound better than the white person…not all of us can afford to travel abroad

    • noexcuses

      Abroad is outside of the US, usually involving a long distance. National Parks are inside the borders. Most of DC is a national park area. Almost every major city has some sort of natural park setting, some administered by park services, others private. Getting there isn't expensive (busses run past Rock Creek park in DC/Maryland and Roosevelt Island on the Potomac). It's a mindset and conscious decision to get out of your comfort zone that is the hard part.

  • getoutmore

    I visited the Gettysburg National Battlefield this past weekend with family… The only minorities there were asian. I lie, there was one black young man working in the gift shop. With how close this is to major metro areas (Philly, DC, Pittsburgh) I just don't understand how more people don't take advantage of this beautiful & meaningful area.

  • immigrantngnr

    It’s got nothing to do with race. Only with what one can afford and have the time for. Education does go a long way towards appreciation of nature, but then a good education is almost always a reflection of ones’ parents net worth.

  • kww

    Geesh…Are you serious??!!…who ever wrote this article is a tool…and does not own a passport or travel. My daughter is in Switzerland for a year…she is black…she skis, plays tennis, which happens to be her favorite sport. I ski and play golf. I have been to national parks nationally and internationally. Only an American white person would write such an article and ask such a question. Additionally, I was born abroad to American parents that worked for the Government. I have, as an adult, lived, studied and worked in several foreign countries, three which were European. Most white Americans have only seen the places I have lived in magazines and television. Do you own a well used passport?! Try getting one and getting a life while you are at it. Dumb article, dumb writer. Period.

    • spm

      The author is black, she is not a tool.

      I honestly believe the activities you participate in relate to your upbringing. With exception, such as being introduced to activities by someone outside your 'inner circle' of family and friends. I find it uncommon for people in general to just try something new out without someone else guiding them along. My husband is black and I am white. Our upbringings were very different. We met after college through work. Because of our relationship and now marriage, he participates in activities that he would have never done with his family. He now loves to travel -his famly HATES to travel anywhere. It isn't a cost thing, they are just more homebodies is all. I should add he has also introduced me to things as well ;)

      I think a lot has to do with how your parents raise you. They did not teach him to be inquisitive about the world and definetely did not encourage him to want to go seek it out on his own. It took someone outside the family to prompt that.

      • carpe diem

        So you taught your black husband culture…I am sure he appreciates your altruism…

    • chad

      Does the term "silver spoon" ring a bell? You sound as dumb as the article.

    • Ricky

      Why is the author a tool? You're the tool. If you have done all things you say, then good for you. Have a cookie. She's obviously not talking about you. But the average black person never goes on these types of adventures either alone or with their family. Not everybody has had your upbringing. I've had a similar background as you since I've traveled all my life. But when my parents settled down in DE, we discovered there were people who had rarely or never been to Philly, DC, Baltimore or NYC and those cities are only anywhere from 45 minutes to a couple hours drive or less by car or train. Their parents just never took them anywhere and that's the bottom line. That sense of adventure usually has to be instilled in you at an early age by your family activities. The other problem is alot of blacks think that's a "whites only" activity and feel like "fish out of water" doing activities other blacks don't regularly participate in. Seems like all we want to do is go on crab fests, r&b cruises and run down to Jamaica it a vacation. The U.S. is a huge and interesting country and I've had few problems in the areas I've traveled through.

    • DemetriaIrwin

      LOL I literally laughed out loud at this comment. Hope you're having a good weekend.

  • jonny

    Why don’t blacks ski? Why don’t they sail? Why don’t they go to national parks? How long is a length of string?
    Who cares?
    If they are not into these white activities, don’t make them feel bad for it.
    I’m not into many black activities either.
    There is nothing wrong with doing what you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the woods, you don’t enjoy the woods.

  • Kayla

    there's certain things black people wont do because they feel too many white people have already been into it. Alot of them may shy away from certain activities that are white dominated. vice versa as well.

    But at the end of the day who really gives a flying fck???/

    • Phred

      Yes, they definitely shy away from things that whites and asians are into, like education, learning, WORK, how NOT to be on welfare, etc.

  • Bree

    I can’t believe half of you with these crazy stereotypes. My parents could not afford to travel more than half way across the country. We would have gone if they could. My dad loves outdoorsy stuff. Traveling is expensive for some. Heck, I went camping, to the lake, rope climbing, and to the caverns as a kid. We stayed along the east coast because it was more affordable and we enjoyed things like ruby falls and other nearby attractions. I agree with Maggie.

  • maggie

    Isn't it funny how so many things can be connected to the oppression of black people? It is an ugly truth that people don't want to accept. I think the reason why many (not all, like me) black people don't go to recreational parks is b/c we are still on survival mode. As a group, we haven't reached a point where we are comfortable enough in this world to explore things w/o feeling hyperalert. We are very concerned about here and now and essentials. Recreation is something that most of us will only take part in if it is close to our homes and not expensive (notice the lack of traveling) Damage is so quick to inflict but will take many moons for the scar to heal.

    • goldenco5

      Oh, please, spare me….the federal parks probably have a special diversity entrance fee of $0.00 for you.

    • shafer

      OUT OF THE GHETTO = OUT OF THEIR ELEMENT

    • Ricky

      Sounds like an excuse to me. There are things people can do close to home. There are parks everywhere. Maybe not national parks but nature parks and trails. People have to take their kids out more so they can learn about the world around them rather than the two block radius where they live.

  • Elle

    We'll I'm not interested because of my fear of being attacked by a bear especially since the recent mauling that happened in Alaska and Yellowstone park

    • Elle

      *well

  • Sheena

    Most blck people are not into nature or sightseeing.

    • Pink

      Sad but true. I went surfing with some white buddies of mine and it was the "best time" I have ever had at the beach!

      White people know how to have fun…its just conveinent for them that black people dont and so they have a monopoly on many exciting activities.

    • Ob Wheeler

       Duh!  The article is asking WHY!  Why don’t black people like nature or sight-seeing?

  • janice

    I am not trying to be on the show "I shouldn't be alive"

    • JustAshley

      LOL!!!

    • THEWIFE

      I agree

  • HeadSmackeroni

    Black women avoid any type of physical activity that would make their naps pop out of their weaves, or actually get them into decent shape.

    I have no interest in national parks, the only 'parks' I'll visit are the commons with my fiance' whenever she wants to go do nothing for a day. =)

    • Kat

      If she is with you, we know she ain't doin nothin! Lol

      By the way, which none are you? Edward or innocentdonelosthismind?
      Lol!

      And of course your fiancé isn't doing anything, because she's a figment of your out of control imagination, lol!
      :-)