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As National Park Service Celebrates 100th Anniversary, Groups Calling For More Diversity


Most minority voters say protecting national parks is important and they want initiatives to improve access to public lands.

That’s from a national poll commissioned by advocates who want to see greater diversity in some of the nation’s natural sites.

Pollster Anthony Williams says 70 percent of people surveyed already engage in outdoor activities like: camping, fishing, picknicking and visiting historic sites. But there are reasons people of color are less likely to visit national parks, including lack of time and not knowing about nearby parks and costs.

"The barrier to greater participation … is the lack of appropriate culturally sensitive outreach from the agencies responsible," says Williams, whose company Bendixen & Amandi International, conducted the poll.

The results are not surprising, says Rue Mapp, the founder of Outdoor Afro.

"I’ve been on the field, I’ve been listening to the stories, I’ve been pushing back on the stereotypes and assumptions, the question that leads with 'why don’t African Americans doing XYZ in the outdoors' …. my response has been consistently, you’re  not looking in the right places," Rue says.

The poll, which comes as the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary Thursday, surveyed 900 African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.

A group called the Next 100 Coalition is calling for President Barack Obama to sign a memorandum showing his commitment to diversity in hiring practices, programming, advertising and outreach within federal agencies charged with managing public lands. 

Some of these efforts are already underway, according to Jeremy Barnum, a spokesman with the National Park Service.

“We suspect that our visitors don’t quite match the demographics of the general American public, which leans a bit more white and a little bit older,” says Barnum. “What we’ve done all year is really try to show that the National Parks are relevant to young people and to people of color.”

Barnum says Obama has designated new national parks recently that recognizes the contributions of minority groups such as the Cesar Chavez National Monument and the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers Monument.

“We want to make sure that every American can find their own personal story in the national park system,” says Barnum.

Barnum says the parks service also launched the ‘Find Your Park’ or ‘Encuentra Tu Parque’  campaigns to help people learn more about parks near them.

The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees Aug. 25 through Aug. 28 as part of its centennial celebration.