The National Park System Extends An Invitation to Blacks

August 4, 2011  |  

By J. Smith

The National Park System is embarking on a new effort to attract more people of color to visit one of the 394 National Parks. According to a report released by the Wyoming Survey & Analysis Center at the University of Wyoming, survey results show that while the American public has become more diverse, visitors to the areas remain overwhelmingly white. Whites made up 78 percent of park visitors from 2008-2009, Hispanics were nine percent and blacks accounted for seven.

“Visitation figures are skewed even further when the visits in question are to parks that showcase wilderness and outdoor recreation,” MSNBC reports. “For example, at Yosemite National Park in California, a 2009 visitation survey showed that African Americans totaled just 1 percent of visitors, compared to 77 percent white and 11 percent each for Hispanics and Asians.”

Some of the reasons cited include a supposed lack of outdoor experience, saying “unfamiliarity breeds apprehension,” and “that outdoor recreation tends to be portrayed in very specific ways that don’t speak to all ethnic groups.” But I’d argue that other, more universal factors are just as important to look at – location, convenience, proximity to other attractive tourism destinations and even advertising. The last time I heard Yosemite Park mentioned in the media, Yogi Bear was still on the air.

But this article leaves me skeptical. I get the impression that the National Park System is suddenly interested in attracting more people of color for self-serving reasons. “In roughly 40 years, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that non-white minorities will constitute at least half of the American population,” MSNBC reports. “And…the impending majority tends to engage less with the national parks than the existing one.” So if the country’s new majority doesn’t visit the parks, then the number of overall park visitors will surely dwindle, and once that happens, so will their funds. As usual with American efforts of racial inclusion, this all boils down to money. Next.

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