Diversity and Our State and National Parks

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 131st anniversary of America’s first state park at Niagara Falls. Park visitation has become more popular than ever, with 2015 being a record-breaking year for visitors to national parks as well as state parks in Michigan, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Despite the growing popularity of state and national parks, research on park usage has shown that visitors are older and whiter than the average American.  Only about one-fifth of national park visitors are minorities and the average age, at least at Yellowstone, was found to be 54.  Given Census Bureau predications that estimate the U.S. will become majority-minority by 2044, park officials and others interested in the future of parks in the 21st century have turned their attention towards attracting younger, more ethnically diverse patrons.

The Park Service has taken a number of steps to help encourage more diverse visitors. Monuments honoring leaders such as Harriet Tubman and Cesar Chavez have been dedicated and minorities have increasingly been recruited to serve as park rangers and other roles.  Programs such as American Latino Expeditions offers expense paid travel excursions to national parks while GirlTrek helps and encourages African-American women to hike in national parks as a way to improve health and fitness.

At the state level, California in particular has taken significant steps to encourage minorities and millennials to visit state parks.  Parks Forward, an independent commission formed under Governor Jerry Brown and tasked with revamping California’s park system, has recommended a number of steps to both modernize the park system and make parks more accessible.  Their recommendations include allowing patrons to pay entrance fees with credit cards, expanding public transportation to parks, and creating more events that cater specifically to minorities and younger visitors.

California also launched CaliParks, a bi-lingual app that helps connect users to all of the states roughly 12,000 local, state, and national parks. The app connects to other forms of social media such as Twitter, Foursquare, and Instagram and allows users to share pictures and adventures with their social network.  It is hoped by the apps creators that increasing coverage of parks and park patrons on social media will inspire new visitors, who might not otherwise be so inclined, to visit California's parks and enjoy spending time in the great outdoors.