Outdoors For All ~ Why Diversity Matters in the Outdoor Industry

National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson welcomes visitors to Yosemite

National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson welcomes visitors to Yosemite

Under my feeth the inflatable stand-up paddling board felt unsteady. The rushing water of the Colorado River took some getting used to as I marveled at the sheer walls of towering sandstone all around me. I feathered the blade of my paddle in sculling strokes to hold my position as the five boats in our party took up their positions behind me and we made ready to get underway.

It was the third morning of a 16-day whitewater rafting adventure though the Grand Canyon. Five boatmen, nine other passengers and I had already settled into that steady rhythm of expedition travel. Though this was my first trip through this great natural wonder, the experience felt very familiar to me after more than two decades in the outdoor industry. In the company of old friends and a few new ones, we found comfort in our common love of nature. But it came as no surprise to me when our trip leader made a casual observation.
“You know, after 35 trips through the Grand Canyon,” he said from his boat, “you’re the first African-American I have ever been with.”

I’ve heard similar comments many times before. Once again, the words gave rise to a sad reality. Though non-Hispanic black Americans, like me, represent 12.3 percent of the U.S. population, our number among visitors to National Parks and other wilderness recreation areas is only 4 to 7 percent, according to a National Park Service study. Like many of the social disparities in our country, such as rates of high school and college graduation, the availability of affordable health care, fair housing practices and gainful employment, limited access to the outdoors still falls squarely along racial and economic lines. The cultural circumstances of past discrimination that so often separate the American people today have also created a gap between those who spend time in nature for the purposes of pure adventure and those who don’t. And in the face of a growing number of black and brown consumers entering the marketplace, this adventure gap represents a potential problem for those in the business of outdoor recreation.


Author’s note: This story is exerpted from an article written for the outdoor industry trade magazine SNEWS on June 27, 2016. To read more visit => http://www.snewsnet.com/news/diversity-outdoor-industry/


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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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