Coalition pushes for more diversity in national parks
WASHINGTON — A first-of-its kind coalition of more than 30 civil rights, environmental justice and conservation groups is pushing for greater efforts to promote diversity in national parks and other public lands.
The group calls itself the Centennial Initiative because of this year’s 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and is hoping to increase:
-- the use of national parks by minorities
-- employment of minorities at parks
--the number of parks and monuments that highlight the role of minorities in American history.
At the same time, a group of 36 House Democrats, led by Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, has written a letter to Jon Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, using the centennial to push for some of the same improvements in the inclusiveness of public lands.
“Under your leadership, the National Park Service has taken important steps to ensure our national park system better reflects our country’s growing diversity, however more work needs to be done,” the letter states.
Grijalva is the ranking Democrat on the House National Resources Committee. Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego also signed the letter.
The coalition, which includes the National Urban League and League of United Latin American Citizens, issued a statement late last month calling on President Obama to issue a memorandum on the centennial of the park service on Aug. 25 that encourages federal land management agencies to reflect the growing diversity of the country.
“The face of America is rapidly changing, yet our public lands do not reflect this demographic and ethnic diversity,” said Carolyn Finney, author and coalition member.
An Outdoor Foundation study found that 73 percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities in 2014 were white. A National Park Service study of 2008-09 park visitors found they were disproportionately white and that visitation by minorities had not changed much since a 2000 survey.
In the study of visitors in 2008-09, the reason cited most often by Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans for not visiting was that they “just don’t know that much about the national park system units.” Minorities also were more likely than whites to see the parks as unsafe, unpleasant or providing poor service.
Meanwhile, a 2014 report by the liberal group Center for American Progress found that of 460 national parks and monuments, 112 – about one-fourth – recognize or are dedicated to diverse people and cultures.
Mark Masaoka, with coalition member the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council, said in the past groups have met with top officials of the federal land agencies in Washington and left hopeful.
“But when it comes down to what’s actually happening on the ground 2,000 miles away, change is often very slow in coming,” Masaoka said.
He said different minorities have different reasons for not taking advantage of the parks or other public lands.
For Asian Pacific residents, Masaoka said, it may simply be a matter of not knowing much about the park system and not enough targeted outreach. For some Hispanics, he said, the green park service uniforms are strikingly similar to those worn by immigration officers.
Both the coalition and the House Democratic letter-writers praised the Obama administration for creating monuments that highlight the role of minorities. Among those are ones that honor Harriet Tubman, who helped bring slaves to freedom; andCesar Chavez, the leader of the farm worker movement.
The Democratic House members also pointed out that minority employment at the National Park Service had grown to 20 percent in 2015.
Despite low minority participation, the park service continues to break visitation records, topping 300 million in 2015.
But some experts say that trend will not continue if the hurdles to minority use of the national parks and other federal lands are not overcome.
“Without greater visitation and interest among those populations that are growing most rapidly, national park programs over time are likely to be supported by a smaller and shrinking segment of the U.S. population,” wrote researcher Myron F. Floyd, a professor at North Carolina State University.