Today is the National Park Service’s 99th birthday, so admission is free to any park. Just don’t expect to see lines of blacks or hispanics or young people there. Our parks are overrun with elderly caucasians.
According to a recent NPS visitor survey, just 22 percent of park visitors were minorities despite those demographic groups making up 37 percent of the population. “Those U.S. residents who could name a unit of the National Park System they had visited in the two years before the survey were disproportionately white and non-Hispanic,” the report concluded. The park service is aware of the lack of diversity, but it’s uncertain just what they can do to attract different people.
This is not a new problem. In 2013, The New York Times ran a front page story about the NPS’s failure to bring in many visitors or even staff outside of a very narrow type. So what’s the issue here?
There’s the culture we associate with outdoor living: Our frontier heroes are guys like Daniel Boone, David Bowie, and Wild Bill Hickock, who were all very white and mostly racist and don’t exactly resonate with a younger crowd.
And the love of the outdoors is a cultivated thing that can cost a great deal of money to cultive: The Outdoor Foundation found that 40 percent of summer campers came from households with an income of $75,000 or more.
The National Parks are great and the tradition of opening them up is terrific, but it’s time to think about how open they really feel to a large portion of our population.