The National Parks are for everyone. A new short film illustrates the efforts underway to invite and welcome more people to enjoy their parks than ever before. Our outdoor public spaces, which include historic sites, memorials and monuments, are indeed open and accessible to anyone willing and able to venture out into the wide world, but there are significant segments of the population that simply don’t. Like many aspects of modern society in the United States of America these divisions of use within our public lands fall steadily along both racial and socio-economic lines. Unfortunately, people of color represent a disproportionately low number of park visitors. Though we can certainly look to the climate of discrimination that was so profound in the last century to assign blame it is infinitely more productive instead to explore ways that we might encourage a more ethnically diverse and inclusive audience of national park supporters.
As I reported for High Country News earlier this summer a group of diversity and inclusion advocates gathered for a meeting at Yosemite National Park. At the very spot where President Theodore Roosevelt met with Sierra Club founder and naturalist John Muir in 1903 the group met to discuss the future of the conservation movement. The purpose of this gathering was to explore practical ways that each of us might work to help create a population of park visitors and employees that reflect the many faces of the American public. Looking for solutions to the complicated issues addressed in my recent book “The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors” as well as an opinion piece in the New York Times by journalist Glenn Nelson, more than 30 representatives from government agencies and non-profit organizations from across the country crafted strategies and plans to help make people of color feel safe and welcome in the public spaces that are their birthright as both U.S. Citizens and human beings.
Despite the opinions of those who insist that environmental protection should be colorblind it seems clear that our efforts must be directly focused on people in our society who are least likely to spend time in the outdoors. Though some often dismiss diversity and inclusion as “politically correct nonsense” the fact remains that the message of wildlife preservation and the value of outdoor recreation are seldom made relevant to cultural experiences in communities of color. By addressing the specific interests, concerns and apprehensions of minorities who have been socially disenfranchised throughout our history we can engage and inspire a new generation of environmental activists and stewards of the natural world.
The documentary film Diversity and Inclusion In Our Wild Spaces offers a glimpse into this historic gathering. At the core of its purpose is the abiding notion that the National Parks are indeed for everyone and all are welcome.
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