Under-representation of minorities in National Parks

4:16 p.m. on August 9, 2014 (EDT)
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Heard Prof. Carolyn Finney's (professor of geography at Cal Berkeley) interview yesterday on NPR, in regards to her book on the under-representation of minorities visiting our National Parks.  

Here's an interview Finney's done on Tavis Smiley:


Here's an older NY Times article on a similar issue with some interesting statistics:


Here's a link to her book:


In regards to the issue, as a special ed teacher in the Los Angeles area, I'd love to get involved with something like this:


Let's get more people into the outdoors!

11:25 a.m. on August 18, 2014 (EDT)
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"Getting more people in the outdoors" is a two edged sword. Tent camping and backpacking have been described by many outdoor writers as "sunset activities." They are in decline and will really start to fade when the baby boomers get too old to get out there.

I have plans to continue to go as long as possible and buck the trend. Not as far or as fast maybe, but continue to go.

Most people get their start with camping (and National Park visiting) with their families. Some get swept along with a neighboring family. Some learn in the Boy or Girl Scouts. The tradition of camping seems largely absent among people of color, and people from many other countries outside of the US. Those views are changing as more and more people grow up in middle class America.

Outdoor recreation is a fascinating topic, and I used to go to school at the U of WA with several people that knew how much an elk is worth and what a picnic table costs. They studied outdoor recreation as a career. It is not always as it appears.



11:48 a.m. on August 18, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks for sharing those links, Danny. It's an important, and interesting, topic.

Here's a June 2014 Boston Globe article featuring Finney that I found interesting:

Hiking while black: The untold story 

You also may be interested in this book coming out in October by James Edward Mils: The Adventure Gap


p.s. I moved your thread to Backcountry, since I don't think it's an Off-Topic subject.

2:39 p.m. on August 18, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks for sharing Danny! This topic is of enormous interest to me. We all have our reasons to head outside, and it makes sense that these reasons are culturally mediated. I think ppine has a good point that familial norms play a significant role. We've got rapidly shifting demographics and conservation issues that are only becoming more urgent. Understanding why (and why not) different cultures venture into the backcountry is fascinating and important work.

11:02 p.m. on August 18, 2014 (EDT)
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I have thought about this occasionally, and there are probably numerous factors involved.

Those articles speak of the dearth of minorities, especially black, in national parks.  My observation is that the numbers drop dramatically lower in the back country far from roads.  I know that when I see a black person while backpacking in the back country of Sequoia/Kings Canyon it is an extraordinarily rare event.  I see asian backpackers occasionally, and sometimes hispanic, but black backpackers are very rare.  The few times I have mentioned my passion for backpacking to black friends, I have been met by incredulity that anyone would want to go somewhere without the conveniences of modern life.

I was talking with my wife about this subject recently.  She grew up in abject poverty in the Philippines, and (addressing the lack of filipino backpackers) she said that people who grow up like that, in conditions not too different from our version of car camping, aren't in a hurry to get back to those conditions when they have a warm bed and a roof over their head in town.

10:51 a.m. on August 19, 2014 (EDT)
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Lambertiana has hit on one of the important factors involved. People that grow up poor do not take to camping or backpacking as a rule because it is too Spartan and reminds them of the early days. Ditto for many Viet Nam vets. I used to go on canoe trips with a guy from Wyoming. He would say things like "I am never going to eat a can of beans or a trout again as long as I live." It was too familiar.

When I was a kid, we lived in a middle class neighborhood, but next door was a black community with outhouses, dirt streets, and houses on cinder blocks. It would not surprise me if those people did not become campers.

On the other hand my Mom was raised in WA state on a berry farm. After they moved to town they still had to use the neighbor's well and heated the house with a wood fired kitchen range. They had no phone or car. She was a backpacker for years, but learned from my Dad's side of the family that were campers since the 1800s but professional people. Originally it was the well off people that became campers beginning around 1900. The appeal filtered down to the masses who wanted to emulate the wealthy. A strange twist in the evolution of camping in America.

I used to date a girl from NY State that grew up on a dairy farm. I taught her to like camping and she was as tough as they come. She was the kind of girl that could hitch hike in Alaska in a snow storm and never complain. Her family did not camp at all.




5:26 p.m. on August 19, 2014 (EDT)
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I know a college professor who grew up in Arkansas with dirt floors and an outhouse. He refuses to go camping or let his kids do scouting.

On the flip side, urbanites of all racial backgrounds are developing a fear of the outdoors... http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/02/05/emergence-nature-phobias-why-more-people-are-afraid-outdoors/

8:35 a.m. on August 20, 2014 (EDT)
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Someplace there is a funny YouTube video where a black man sets up a booth at an Aspen ski resort advertising, "meet a real black person". The video pokes fun at the gap in a friendly way and makes a very good point. Many thesis opportunities in this topic. Thanks for bringing it up.

11:37 a.m. on August 20, 2014 (EDT)
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Thanks to Goose for the article above. It makes some excellent points about the way many modern children are raised. My own niece and nephew live in Chicago and "do not get the outdoors." They have all sorts of fears. I just met with them and I think the 18 yo nephew is old enough to show up for a canoe trip next summer.

The article is very heavy handed in one aspect, namely environmental quality. In the US at least, we do not have "ever increasing degradation" and 60 percent of our ecosystems are not "damaged beyond repair." This is a dated and urban-centric point of view. It will be interesting to see countries like China address environmental quality issues in the near future. Many outdoor users are too young to remember the remarkable transformation that the US started in the 1970s. Wilderness areas in our country continue to expand. Air, water, and earth resources continue to be in better shape. The rest of the world needs to follow our lead.

12:01 p.m. on August 20, 2014 (EDT)
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When I was a kid, fifty years ago, I visited Mono Rock in Sequoia NP and could see for miles and miles.  The trees were healthy.

Go there now, and see the ever increasing degradation of air quality in the whole of the southern Sierra...not only is the air almost opaque, but the trees are clearly suffering. 

That happened during my lifetime, and I don't see any quick way to turn that around.  The pollution is created by the cities and farms west of the park, and it will just continue.

9:57 a.m. on August 21, 2014 (EDT)
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Ppine I agree, its been a while since a river caught on fire around here.  I never filter my water above the treeline.  My international traveler friends tell me that the US is a relative paradise compared to the rest of the world where people treat their countries like a huge garbage dump. 

10:57 a.m. on August 21, 2014 (EDT)
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I have some close friends that spent many years on mission in China, with most of that spent in Xian (metro population of over 8 million people). They have incredible stories of pollution; there are environmental laws there but depending on political connections those laws may or not be enforced.

When they visited us a couple years ago (after being gone for five years) they and their kids kept commenting on how green it was here and how fresh the air seemed. This was especially surprising since the TN valley where I live has some of the worst air quality in the lower 48.

11:11 a.m. on August 21, 2014 (EDT)
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The air quality in southern California has improved markedly since 1974. That is 40 years ago. My first job out of college involved lots of air quality studies for projects around Los Angeles. Air pollution was much worse then. Sequoia NP is an example of a place that still suffers from air quality problems. If you check the record you will find that air quality has actually improved since then.

I agree with the other posters that one of the best ways to gain some perspective about environmental quality in the US is to travel. Even countries in western Europe have much worse problems than we have. Canada is notoriously lax in the way they treat the environment.

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