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Monday, July 4, 2011

Why Do National Parks Fail To Attract People Of Color?

Audrey Peterman wrote a book about the journey she and her husband made through America's national parks. (Courtesy: Audrey Peterman)

Audrey Peterman wrote a book about the journey she and her husband made through America's national parks. (Courtesy: Audrey Peterman)

Here & Now Guests:

Outside magazine recently convened a panel to confront the lack of diversity among guests and employees in national parks.

Dr. Stephen Lockhart, an avid camper and climber  says it’s discouraging not to see more people of color like himself enjoying national parks. He believes the parks hold not just educational, but also economic opportunities for young people.

Audrey Peterman says the parks don’t attract African-Americans, because the media doesn’t portray images of people of color using the parks. In fact, out of more than 6,000 photos in Outside magazine during a ten-year period, just over 100 featured African-Americans.

Peterman is co-founder of Earthwise Productions, an environmental advocacy and consulting group, and co-author with her husband of their 2009 memoir “Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care,” which described their 12,000 mile journey through the national parks.

She told Here & Now’s Robin Young how her friends and family reacted to news that she and her husband were going hiking in Maine. “People freaked out. Several of Frank’s friends actually offered him guns, they said, man are you crazy? You know what can happen to a black man out there?”


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  • http://www.facebook.com/alejandrorubio Alejandro Rubio

    There’s a typo in the headline, FYI:  should be “attract”.

    Great story, something I’m always wondering about myself!  Wonder if there are opportunities to volunteer and bring more people of color out to the parks!

    • http://www.hereandnow.org Kevin Sullivan

      thanks for typo head’s up.

  • K.P.

    There’s a typo on in “head’s up”. 
    :)

  • Gimied57

    That is an awesome story thanks for sharing it. Me my self as a black college student now working at Grand Canyon National Park. I keep asking myself why I did not see black people and when other color see me walking they stop and stair at me like I am lost. Many have stopped me and asked me questions.. we need diversity in Park system. “I am the only black in my department” I laugh sometimes and be pround of myslef

  • Audrey

    Awesome interview, if i say so myself!! Thank you, Robin and NPR, for giving exposure to this important issue! HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY TO ALL!

  • rici

    The shortage in comments reveals the relevancy of the forgotten
    topic. Even my own family “forgets” until another tells a similar story. The
    irony is perverse – white people in Native lands, still encroaching, be it by
    buying up around the parks and refusing to equally serve minorities or blatant
    harassment. Until I read about Frank’s friends warning him, I had forgotten
    N.A.’s warning me about the Cour D’Alene area, and then waiting forever to get
    served in the posh areas around Flathead. You don’t even have to be a certain race;
    you only need to look like another, as an Asian mistaken for Native will tell
    you or a white mistaken for whatever. Myself, I know that healing powers lie in
    our national parks and if you give an inner city gang member a chance to climb
    to the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere and sit in awe of the beauty
    and peace of our natural world, it would be a better world and what we need is
    more parks for more people, for all to cure our societal ills. A mind at peace
    is better able to choose a healthy perspective, behavior. Parks heal our wounds
    of survival.

  • Amy Zarndt

    Great interview on an important topic!  I am white and grew up in NYC but moved with my husband to Montana where we get to go to Yellowstone many times a year.  I don’t see many people of color (not counting the many Japanese tourists!) but when I do I am impressed that they have chosen to break the stereotype and make the trip.  On our last visit, when we were greeted at the entry by an African-American ranger I was quite pleased — I only wish now that I would have shared that with him! 

  • http://www.hartfieldshikers.com Carolyn_Hartfield

    Great interview!  I have read the book by Audrey Peterman ‘Legacy on the Land.’ It is definitely a MUST READ.  The stories make the history come alive and the descriptions are so vivid, you feel like you are there.  Being a city girl, I never really visiting the state or national parks as a youngster. To celebrate my 56th birthday,  I hiked a trail in the North Georgia mountains.  Now, in my 60′s I lead groups of all ages.  Every month I have first timers, who get hooked.  Great job Robin!

  • Mbrown130

    Hello,

    Great show but you missed a huge point.  Most of your talk was about National Parks that are out west and not easily accessible.  You missed the jewel of the Midwest.  The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore located in Lake and Porter Countys in Northwest Indiana.  There is a portion of the Park that is located within the limits of the City of Gary.  A city with a predominanetly black population and is accessible by public transportation. Please use the link below

    http://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm

    Deacon Maritn Brown

  • Paul Baicich

    Stephen Lockhart and Audrey Peterman were fabulous. Thanks, Robin!

    I have known Audrey and her inspired husband, Frank, for a decade now. They have been tireless champions in this vital effort.

    One more comment, though…  The problem (and opportunity) in National Parks could also apply to National Wildlife Refuges and National Forests. They have differences, but their “diversity problem” is similar. Fortunately, there are many more people today discussing AND WORKING on this issue than there  may have been a decade ago.

  • Kenn Kaufman

    Wonderful interview! Audrey and Frank Peterman have been among my personal heroes for several years, and now Stephen Lockhart is up there as well. This is a critically important issue, and we need these dynamic spokespersons who can get the message out in front of the public in a clear and direct way.  There IS some progress being made — not only in visitation to National Parks, but also in other areas of outdoor recreation — but we still have a long way to go.

    Thanks very much, Robin, for choosing to highlight this story on Independence Day!

  • W.E.C.

    Why do the parks fail to attract people of color? If one looks at the emotional feeling of most Black toward this country relationship with minorities, you would see and understand the lack of connection with our national inheritance. It’s a division that runs long and deep. A state of separatism that exist from, this is for us and not for you, mind set. The people of this country have connected in lots of areas, for the better of humanity, by reaching out to each other and saying we are all the same.This is ours to share.

  • wkins

    This seems pretty silly that Audrey Peterman would be quoted as saying that “parks don’t attract African-Americans, because the media doesn’t portray images of people of color using the parks.”  Are over simplistic answers to complex sociological  questions now the standard? She looks amazing in her photo though I must say!

  • Muir

    Everyone, here is the answer to “Why Do National Parks Fail To Attract People Of Color.” It is simple, they fail because they fail to attract any sizeable portion of any demographic in this county. The national park system does not advertise effectively and the program is under funded. This is not a racial issue, it is a matter of poor promotion.

    • DocSarvis

      While the parks certainly are under funded they are certainly not under visited. Smokey Mountains NP had almost 10 million visitors last year, with several other parks showing record numbers well into the millions as well recently. The NPS doesn’t need to advertise, they are not in the “business” of nature, they are simply trying to preserve it. Often times encouraging more visitors is counter to that mission. Anywhere humans go death and destruction are soon to follow.

  • Kelly_stottlemyer

    I would say that the younger generations of kids of minority are being raised by media and that most of the media available and interesting to the younger generations do not convey the importance of nature and conservation. My generation grew up watching National Lampoons with Chevy Chase, constantly on the go on a road-trip! Those days are gone and most kids priorities are $, sex, and just chilling. Things aside from those, are unimportant and boring, and I feel really sorry for the next generation. Throw in bad media sources and lack of a proper education in todays public schools, are we surprised?

  • http://twitter.com/outdoorafro Outdoor Afro

    Thank you Audrey – for everything!

    • Audrey

      I love you, Rue!! and, BIG CONGRATULATIONS ON WINNING “BEST NATURE BLOG!!””

  • http://www.purplebutterflycrochetcollection.com Cheryl Brown

    Where we are protrayed in the media as visiting such places should have no bearing on our reading of places near and far. In fact curiosity should make you want to visit such places often seen in the movies. I placed visiting Yosemite Park and the Grand Canyon on my Bucket List.

  • Bamared61

    You cannot discount the fear factor. I think there’s some kind of genetic-cultural memory for us African-Americans reacts to these vast, empty spaces, where we perceive that most of the people wandering through them are white people that we don’t know, as unsafe.

    I love the outdoors (I used to subscribe to Outside and salivate over the images, and I’m a member of the Sierra Club, but have never taken a club trip), but I don’t feel really safe unless I’m on my own family’s land or my land. I’ve just begun to explore other green spaces nearby. Also, there are many more people of color interested in getting outdoors than we might think. We just have to find each other.

    I applaud Audrey and Stephen for being trailblazers.

  • Hybrid Fat-n-Sassy

    I can think of two reasons. 1) National parks are marketed as “part of our national heritage.” People of color feel excluded from our national heritage and for good reason. 2) Fear of being harassed or otherwise othered by white people who are out enjoying their national heritage and don’t like being reminded of some of our other national heritages. I live in Minnesota and I for one do visit national parks, but I always go with a “chaperone” or two. People here associate people of color with cities, reservations, blight, and guilt. The weight of their resentment sometimes outweighs my need to be in wild spaces.

  • Hybrid Fat-n-Sassy

    I can think of two reasons. 1) National parks are marketed as “part of our national heritage.” People of color feel excluded from our national heritage and for good reason. 2) Fear of being harassed or otherwise othered by white people who are out enjoying their national heritage and don’t like being reminded of some of our other national heritages. I live in Minnesota and I for one do visit national parks, but I always go with a “chaperone” or two. People here associate people of color with cities, reservations, blight, and guilt. The weight of their resentment sometimes outweighs my need to be in wild spaces.

  • Hybrid Fat-n-Sassy

    I can think of two reasons. 1) National parks are marketed as “part of our national heritage.” People of color feel excluded from our national heritage and for good reason. 2) Fear of being harassed or otherwise othered by white people who are out enjoying their national heritage and don’t like being reminded of some of our other national heritages. I live in Minnesota and I for one do visit national parks, but I always go with a “chaperone” or two. People here associate people of color with cities, reservations, blight, and guilt. The weight of their resentment sometimes outweighs my need to be in wild spaces.

  • Hybrid Fat-n-Sassy

    Sorry that posted three times.

  • Audrey

    This blog by Rue Mapp (who just won Best Outdoor/Nature/Green Blog at the 2011 Black Weblog Awards!) sheds more light on the subject we’re discussing..
     http://www.outdoorafro.com/2011/07/invasive-species/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Rost/100002156194621 Stephen Rost

    There is not enough Sunshine year round to keep them happily colored according to their Earthly place of early origin ?

    …Unless of course the National Park has an African Climate with Rainforests and Deserts

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Seaver/100000435890720 Tim Seaver

    “Audrey Peterman says the parks don’t attract African-Americans, because the media doesn’t portray images of people of color using the parks”

    Which makes it sound intentional on the part of “the media” – I don’t think that’s accurate or fair at all. As a freelance photographer who regularly shoots outdoor scenes for publication, I can tell you the reason why you don’t see more diversity is because 95% of the people I see on the trails are white. You can’t photograph something that simply isn’t there. The only solution I see to this chicken-or-the-egg scenario is for the publishing industry to actually supply models of diverse races for shoots – It would be “artificial”, but what other solution is there?

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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