Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Park Service hopes for more racially diverse visitors

As the National Park Service works to increase attendance at the country's 393 national parks, it hopes to improve diversity by attracting black visitors. The 285.5 million visitors to national parks in 2009 were "overwhelmingly non-Hispanic whites, with blacks the least likely group to visit," Mireya Navarro of The New York Times reports. "That reality has not changed since the 1960s, when it was first identified as an issue. The Park Service now says the problem is linked to the parks’ very survival."

The issue gained some celebrity support when The Oprah Winfrey Show devoted a full-hour in response to Yosemite National Park ranger Shelton Johnson's (photo above, by Max Whittaker for The New York Times) letter about how few of his fellow African-Americans visit national parks. The first half of the segment, which was filmed at Yosemite, aired Friday with part two scheduled to air on Wednesday. "If the American public doesn’t know that we exist or doesn’t care, our mission is potentially in jeopardy," Jonathan B. Jarvis, who took over as director of the Park Service last year, said. "There’s a disconnect that needs addressing."

"In a comprehensive survey it commissioned in 2000, only 13 percent of black respondents reported visiting a national park in the previous two years," Navarro writes. "That compared with 27 percent for Latinos, 29 percent for Asians and 36 percent for whites." Jim Gramann, a visiting social scientist with the Park Service who is overseeing a review of a follow-up survey in 2008 and 2009, said the gap persisted. "It’s all layered," said Carolyn Finney, an assistant professor of environmental science policy at the University of California, Berkeley, who is working on a book about blacks’ relationship to the natural environment. "You need ways to make people think about the parks differently." (Read more)

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