The topic of the lack of people of color visiting national parks made the news again. Not too long ago it was also in the news after Oprah addressed the issue on her show.
It’s an interesting topic with many facets to it. I’m still not quite sure how I feel about it. The MSNBC report on it by travel writer Rob Lovitt seems to address the issue that not enough people know about the parks, and that they represent an American story. And that there are many people who don’t even identify with the American story living in the U.S.
I think to help tackle the issue, the history of the national parks and their units should be dropped into more history classes in school. You shouldn’t be able to teach kids about Pilgrims or the Civil War without pointing to the fact that you can still visit these historical places. You shouldn’t be able to teach a geography course without pointing out the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, Olympic National Park, why Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., the Redwoods…
I’m not saying this is the simple solution to our problems here, but the changing diversity of the US population is also evident in our schools. If you get the younger generation involved in caring about the different facets of the country they live in, they may be more apt to care about these issues when they’re older and show concern to the problems we’re having in the national park system. You need to teach people why they should care about these places and then maybe they’ll go.
And it really bothers me that the woman quoted in the MSNBC article lives in southern Florida and didn’t even realize there’s a national park system. You have three large national parks in your state. Are we really that disconnected in the United States?
The last challenge that NPS is facing is the image people get when thinking of how to experience the national parks. They picture having to hike and camp and if you’re not an outdoor enthusiast then you feel that it’s not for you. And I agree. While hiking is involved in many of the parks, it’s not the sole thing to do. And you certainly don’t have to stay in a tent; it’s only an option, and a cheap one at that.
If NPS wants to see more diversity at the parks, they would benefit from better marketing to a larger range of people along with detailing the different opportunities of things to do in the park system.