ABC/Univision previously detailed some of the reasons minorities are reluctant to travel to parks, and they range from fears about safety to a lack of transportation.
Some of those concerns are difficult to tackle, and looming budget cuts don’t help the situation either. But advocates of increasing the diversity of park visitors say there are steps the park service needs to take if they want a future, ABC News reported.
John Griffith, a supervisor with California Conservation Corps, an agency that gives young people who might not otherwise have the opportunity a chance to work outdoors, says simply adding more picnic tables at parks would be a good start.
“If you think about a typical white family, there are four people in that family and they need one picnic table,” he said. “But when Latin American families come, they often come with grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles and one table is not enough.”
Why not just rent multiple campsites? Park planners might ask that question but if they included Latinos in the planning process, they’d have an answer before it became a problem.
Latino families don’t want to be split up into different sites. They want a bunch of tables in one place where they can all be together. It might not sound like a huge drawback, but it contributes to the sense that their preferred style of vacationing is not considered and that is a big issue.
“If you have a Latino and black population, then you should make sure to include those user groups in the planning of parks,” Griffith said. “If I was planning a park, I’d want the urban population to have access, so I’d run bus lines, and I would have multiple tables for extended family groups. If you’re engaging user groups with the design, I think you have much higher engagement.”
Spanish-language trail signs would also help, as would including stories about more than just the white settlers and native populations in park exhibits.
That sounds easy, right? Except it’s not really happening.
Planners Don’t Plan for Minority Campers
Griffith says park planners have assumed minorities are not interested in the outdoors so they haven’t planned for them. And even though minorities might be interested in going to the parks, the parks don’t reflect what they need, so they don’t feel welcome.
“There’s a negative assumption loop going on,” he said, and it needs to be broken to keep the park system vibrant.
One way to do that, Griffith says, is to engage children, especially racial and ethnic minorities who might not get to parks on their own.
“Kids are not engaging, they’re not playing outdoors,” he said. “No great conservationist has been raised indoors. Those early outdoor experiences are super important. We need our kids, all of our kids, to have a relationship with nature.”
And that’s not only important, it’s vital to the future of the park system.
Aaron Ableman, co-founder of Balance Edutainment, which aims to teach kids about conservation through entertainment, says one way to do that is through the “ubiquitous power of pop culture.”
He said kids are even more interested in conservation than adults, especially when it’s presented in a way that resonates with them, like through hip hop or YouTube videos.
The key, he said, is that “at the root of it, there needs to be a powerful story.”
Rue Mapp, co-founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, an effort to get minority kids into nature, said the park service needs to do a better job of conveying that there are national parks and monuments near many urban areas and that they are affordable.
She cautioned against bundling all Latinos together or all African-Americans in a group. Different communities will respond differently to information, she said, so the parks need to test what works and not assume that a blanket outreach effort will be successful.
The National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks, has focused recently on improving access to the parks for Latinos and other minorities. The organization has an American Latino Heritage Funddevoted specifically to making sure the national parks and monuments tell the Latino experience as an integral part of the American story. (Disclosure: Fusion Executive Producer Miguel Ferrer is on the ALHF Board). Last year, for example, the César E. Chávez monument was established to recognize the contributions of the renowned labor leader.
Midy Aponte, executive director of the American Latino Heritage Fund, said her organization tries to educate Latinos through social media and other campaigns that the parks are open to everyone and that Latinos and other minorities have played a critical role in their history. The foundation use things like Twitter and Facebook to combat the myths that the parks are expensive or that memberships are required. They also run a program called Ticket to Ride that offers transportation to the parks.
Aponte said the foundation wants to “educate this audience not only about their history and heritage being reflected in the parks, but also that they’re here and ‘Let’s go enjoy them.’”
“White people aren’t going to save the earth,” Griffith said. “It’s going to take all of us and so all of us have to be engaged. The people right now making the calls need to be reaching out to user groups and kids and making sure they feel welcome.”
He added that if there were more of an outcry from the public, he thinks that would already be happening.
“I think it has to happen or our natural parks are going to become obsolete,” Griffith said. “If they want to stay in the game, we need to diversify.”
If you took your family camping this summer, you may have noticed a lack of diversity at your campground. More than 90 percent of campers are white and African-Americans are less likely to go camping than any other race. One group is helping to close the racial divide of the great outdoors, KGO-TV, San Francisco, reported.
It is where many childhood memories are made, a family camping trip. But look closely and you might realize there is something missing: African Americans. Rue Mapp of Oakland is trying to change that. She started “Outdoor Afro” three years ago hoping to reunite African- Americans with nature. “Outdoor Afro is a social media and in-person community that inspires and celebrates African-American connections to nature,” she says.
Now, Mapp has a national following. She created an online community for African-Americans to share their stories. “There are thousands and thousands of members across various social media platforms. We get about 80,000 eyeballs to our Facebook page and we have about 10,000 people engaging on our website,” she says.
Despite those numbers, the National Park Service says just 1 percent of park visitors across the country is African-American. Mapp says that doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying nature. Outdoor Afro organizes outings and camping trips like a recent one in Coloma. The idea is to get more African-Americans out into nature. “Yes, we do camp, most definitely,” Linda McDonald of Berkeley says. McDonald says Outdoor Afro is also helping diminish the stereotype that African-Americans just don’t camp. “Historically, black people have been a part of nature. From the time they were brought over from the continent, they’ve been a part of nature, cultivating the ground,” she says.
“The stereotype is true and then not true because my wife, she loves it. I don’t love it, but I’ll do it and I’m sure I will have a great time at the end of it,” Larry Austin of San Pablo says.
Many of the campers blame urbanization and segregation for disconnecting their community from the outdoors in the past. But today, they are trying to bridge that gap by reconnecting themselves and introducing a new generation to nature. “I think that it’s good to bond with people that look like me and to experience new things and my God, this is great. It’s beautiful out here,” says David Robinson of San Francisco.
“To be able to have an organization like this, it allows more people to do it because sometimes it can be pricey and outside of peoples’ means,” Michelle Robinson says.
Outdoor Afro isn’t just for families or African-Americans for that matter. It’s about creating a relationship with nature. “I think a lot of people of color are just not used to it, maybe from their childhood, they never really did a lot of outdoor activities. But I think it’s great to connect with other people, to get out there, really connect back with Mother Nature, and I think that’s really important not just for people of color, but for everyone,” Amara Aidbedion says.
Editor’s Note: The following story appears in the Feb. 1 issue of the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC’s) “Wednesday Morning Coffee Talk & Updates.”
CalARVC and Camp-California’s NexGen Committee have been working hard with Rue Mapp, founder of Outdoor Afro. We are helping to broaden the message that “camping is a fun way to get your kids outdoors” to the African-American community.
In October, Meaghan Bertram of Vineyard RV Park and CalARVC’s NexGen chair (somewhat appropriate as she is expecting twins!!) coordinated the second camping trip for Rue Mapp and her two children. Owners Don and Mieke McQueen of Big Sur Campground & Cabins were the hosts and El Monte Rental out of Oakland provided the motorhome. And finally, Bob and Pamela Hamilton of RV Dream New Radio, accompanied the Mapp family. We have photos and video interviews.
Check out Camp-California’s channel at RV Dream New Radio and listen to Rue explain her background and mission. Then check out the video of Rue’s daughter talking about how great camping is in an RV while she’s eating a s’more!!! While at RV Dream New Radio….check out CalARVC member channels and see how Bob and Pam can bring your park to life on the web.
Since then Camp California’s publicist coordinated an interview of Rue on NPR radio! Listen here.
And this past week RV News Network got in and interviewed Rue as well. Listen in as Rue shares her RV experiences!
CalARVC member, Stockton Lodi KOA will host Rue’s next trip in mid-April. Look for more stories, photos and interviews from Rue and her family.
A University of Wyoming survey finds that 78% of visitors to America’s national parks and forests are white, compared to 9% Hispanic and 7% black.
Rue Mapp of Oakland, Calif., is trying to change that.
She spoke with Michel Martin of National Public Radio (NPR) about her website “Outdoor Afro,” which aims to educate African-Americans about the importance of getting involved with the outdoors.
Click here to listen to a brief interview conducted by Martin for NPR and to read a transcript of the interview.