Despite population diversity, U.S. park visitors are overwhelmingly white

Although the U.S. population continues to diversify, that trend has not been reflected in the demographics for visitors to U.S. parks. MSNBC reports that on Wednesday, the National Park Service (NPS) released a survey that shows that 78 percent of visitors to America’s national parks between 2008 and 2009 where white non-Hispanic, while Hispanics accounted for nine percent and African-Americans only seven percent. In comparison, the most recent U.S. census revealed that only 64 percent of the population was non-Hispanic white.

Why are people of color staying away from U.S. parks? Rob Lovitt, author of the MSNBC article, suggests fear of the unknown as well as the assumption that the parks are only for adventurous outings, such as hiking and camping. Helping minorities feel welcome once they are in the parks has also been a concern of the NPS.

Trying to make “America’s Best Idea” a concept that all Americans can embrace is the only way that parks will continue to be part of the American experience. Shelton Johnson, an African-American park ranger that was interviewed for the MSNBC story, points out that some of the first men to serve as rangers in America’s parks were the so-called “Buffalo Soldiers,” members of the African-American regiments of the U.S. Army from 1899-1904.

“This puts African-Americans at the very beginning of national park history, yet African-Americans only constitute 1 percent of visitors to the park,” said Johnson. “If you don’t know you have cultural roots in the parks, then you’re not going to feel a sense of ownership in them.”

One way that the NPS is hoping that minorities feel ownership in the parks is by developing programs that introduce minority kids to the wonders of the national parks. Current programs include Wildlink, which introduces inner-city youth from Oakland and Stockton to the parks through five-day wilderness trips to Yosemite, and the Camp Moreno Project, which gives Colorado kids the opportunity to go camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. The hope is that the more visitors the parks can attract the more park supporters there will be, thus ensuring that all 394 national parks will be around for all Americans to enjoy.

Check out the full story on MSNBC.

[flickr image via compass points]

Photo of the Day (8.10.10)

Badlands National Park; if the name alone doesn’t inspire you to visit, then perhaps this frame from photographer Theodore Scott will.

Inspired to get out and travel immediately after completing his college courses, Scott chose to skip his own graduation for a weeklong tour of the park. His takeaway? “..I crawled out of my tent most mornings to see bison scattered around the landscape. It was worth missing my graduation.”

Badlands is one of more than 100 national parks that will be opening their gates to the public free of charge this weekend, August 14-15. So what are you waiting for? Summer is almost over! Get out there, take pictures, and submit them to our Flickr Pool to be considered as our next Photo of the Day.

Fight heats up over proposed parks closure in New York

Like most states, New York is trying to deal with a huge deficit. The latest budget proposed by Gov. David Paterson calls for cuts to practically every state service, from education to welfare to public health. Not surprisingly, people are angry and various interest groups are trying to save their share of the pie.

How is this of interest to travelers? Because the governor proposed closing 41 parks and 14 historic sites, and reducing services at 23 parks and 1 historic site. Proposed closures include such popular destinations as Brookhaven State Park in Long Island, Fort Montgomery Historic Site in the Palisades, and (get this) the Donald J. Trump State Park in Westchester. This would have saved $6.3 million. A huge public outcry made the governor reverse the proposal and restore the funding, but the state government indicated the decision isn’t final.

Now the National Parks Service has weighed in and said such a drastic cut would put the state in non-compliance with the terms by which it accepted $1.9 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and was in danger of losing that money and perhaps billions more. The Paterson administration was quick to hit back, saying New York was still in compliance and accusing the NPS of overreacting. The wrangling continues.

So just how big is New York’s deficit? According to the governor’s report it stands at $8.2 billion. The Times Union newspaper says it’s $9.2 billion. Whichever is correct, a lot of people are going to be feeling the pinch, and it’s hard to imagine the parks will not have to make any sacrifices.