The Roosevelt Arch at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park features a placard that reads, “For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People,” words that Pres. Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed as the arch was dedicated in 1903. Yet, many people of color have not had the opportunity to experience our country’s national parks – their national parks.
Just recently, The Oprah Winfrey Show chronicled Oprah’s camping trip to Yosemite National Park. Oprah was invited to the park by Yosemite National Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, an African American who played a prominent role in Ken Burns’ film, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
While visiting Yosemite, Oprah took in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, went fly fishing on the Merced River, and was awed by Johnson’s incredible Buffalo Soldier persona. But, for Oprah, this place of inspiration raised a much larger question: “Why aren’t there more visitors of color in the national parks?”
The preceding paragraphs are taken from a press release distributed by the National Parks Second Century Commission, an independent group charged with developing a 21st Century vision for the National Park Service. The Commission was formed in 2008 by the National Parks Conservation Association and its findings were made public in 2009. I really don’t know why a release from them made it to my desk just this past week, other than it is capitalizing on Oprah Winfrey’s recent camping trip to Yosemite.
According to the release, “a lack of diversity is a longstanding issue for national parks, public lands and the environmental movement as a whole.”
To be honest, I didn’t realize this issue even existed. And to be even more honest, I struggle with accepting this as a legitimate issue. Visiting our national parks, to me, seems to be the ultimate in freedom of choice. You either choose to go to a national park, or you don’t. Lack of awareness might be a problem, but is it enough of a problem that our government needs to put forth taxpayer resources toward it?
Still not convinced, I continued reading the Commission’s press release.
At Yosemite, less than 1 percent of the visitors are African American. In Florida, only 4 percent of visitors to Everglades National Park are Hispanic or African American – even though nearby Miami is 54 percent Hispanic and 14 percent African American. As the demographics of America continue to shift toward a non-white majority, visitation numbers like these will diminish the relevancy of parks.
The Commission recently laid out potential Park Service actions to better connect diverse and urban communities with the national parks. The Commission recommended engaging diverse communities to build personal connections to parks, expanding educational opportunities, ensuring interpretation through the context of diverse perspectives, and actively recruiting a new generation of park leaders that reflects the nation’s diversity.
Hard to argue with those recommendations; who doesn’t support making more people aware of what our national parks have to offer, especially if you take into account that one of the Park Service’s goals is to educate the public. The Commission’s release explains this further…
Although more widely known for the great natural parks, like Yellowstone and Glacier, the National Park Service is one of the largest stewards of sites that tell the story of cultural diversity. At Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, W.E.B. DuBois and other members of the Niagara Movement issued a clarion call for full and immediate suffrage. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves four Spanish missions in Texas – the greatest concentration of Roman Catholic missions in North America. Even Yosemite, one of the majestic natural parks, holds a rich and diverse history – home to Shelton Johnson’s interpretation of Buffalo Soldiers at the park.
Despite this rich history, national parks across the country face funding and staffing shortfalls that often limit the Park Services’ ability to interpret cultural sites and expand educational opportunities for visitors to learn about our shared heritage. While outreach to diverse communities is a stated priority for the Park Service, they often lack the funding and staff to do so.
Well there you have it, I thought, yet another special interest group and/or government program whining about a lack of funds. Here’s a better idea: our federal government needs to do a better job with the taxes it already receives – i.e. eliminate unnecessary programs and those that are kept must be made more efficient. That ought to free up some money – if indeed more money is a legitimate need in this case.
But I digress.
Back to the release again.
There is currently an opportunity to ensure that our national parks remain relevant to a changing America. Pres. Barack Obama recently established the America’s Great Outdoors initiative to create a 21st century strategy for reconnecting Americans with their rich natural heritage. The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocacy organization for the parks, has recommended that national parks play a prominent role in such an initiative.
“Many urban and rural communities have national parks in their backyards and we must ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to experience these places that preserve our natural and cultural heritage,” said NPCA Legislative Representative Alan Spears. “We hope that the administration takes bold steps to better connect people of color to our national parks through the America’s Great Outdoors initiative.”
Throughout the country, there are successful models of outreach to urban and diverse communities around national parks. For example, at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Los Angeles, nearly 10,000 inner-city youth have learned to grow native plants and care for restoration sites. Santa Monica Mountains is the world’s largest urban national park and although the park is within walking distance, most children in the year-long learn and work program had never visited before. Since the program, visitation has increased as students bring their families for weekend and after-school visits – creating a lasting connection to a place that once barely existed to them.
Oprah’s visit to Yosemite National Park brings to the forefront a longstanding issue for national parks. By increasing diversity in the workforce, interpretation and ultimately visitation, parks can maintain relevancy in their second century and truly provide benefit and enjoyment for all Americans.
And that concluded the Commission’s release.
All of the Commission’s suggestions sound like worthy goals, and you certainly can’t argue with wanting to make people more willing to visit the national parks and enjoy their beauty and majesty and historical contexts.
The Commission’s report sheds light on an apparent lack of diversity at our national parks. But is this lack of diversity an issue that needs to be dealt with? Or is it a something less – perhaps nothing more than a statistical observation that will likely fluctuate over time? Again, everyone is free to choose whether to take their family to visit a national park – or a state park, or an amusement park, or an RV park … you get the idea.
I have to admit that I was hesitant to post this. This post is not meant to stir up a hornet’s nest. But I am curious how others see this particular “issue” as it relates to our National Parks.
From the personal blog: I continue to post information on travel destinations – including “Women, Winter, Wine, and Chocolate” plus “Winterfest” and “Shiver by the River” events in Michigan’s northwest lower peninsula – as well as 10 Great tips for Traveling with a Litter of Kids.
Gr8LakesCamper celebrates the world of RV Camping in the Midwest. Gather around the campfire and share tips, ideas and stories on RVing, camping and travel destinations. Follow Gr8LakesCamper on Twitter, Facebook and the personal blog.
Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon; all is a week’s work.
Starting last week with WGN TV Chicago, I kicked off the Buried Logic “7 Sins of Summer Safety” media tour reporting for local news outlets and exploring along the way. I call it “bringing the far away to my own front door.” Actually, it’s bringing it to the back door of my Lance Camper.
For travelers Ron and Jane, Death Valley National Park is a destination that everyone would be able to enjoy. In their travel journal, Ron & Jane 2007-08-09, they describe their favorite spots here, which include Furnace Creek.
Furnace Creek is a village in the center of the beautiful Death Valley National Park. Accommodating travelers that visit the National Park with the Furnace Creek Ranch, Furnace Creek Inn and several campgrounds, Furnace Creek is also the location of one of the Park’s Visitor Centers as well as a museum.
For a taste of the area’s history, visitors can browse amongst actual pieces of machinery that were used years ago in the local borax mines. The Borax Museum can be found at the Furnace Creek Ranch.
The name Furnace Creek just might be attributed to the fact that the highest North American temperature reading was recorded here; 134 degrees in the year 1913. This temperature almost rivals the world high temperature which was documented as 136 degrees in 1922, occurring in Libya.
Furnace Creek is also just a short trip away from some of the best attractions in Death Valley National Park. The Badwater Salt Flats used to be a salty lake which blanketed Death Valley long, long ago. The incredibly salty water, around three times saltier than sea water, is credited with the moniker “Badwater”; so named when a thirsty mule refused to partake of the water. While the area will still fill with water after a hard rain, the evaporation rate in the area is 150 inches per year meaning that it is usually dry. The area also claims fame to being the lowest point in North America; 282 feet below sea level.
Another nearby must see is the beautiful 9 mile stretch in Death Valley National Park called Artist Drive Loop and Artists Palette showcases the natural wonder of the park. Called the “Palette” because of the rich colors created through years of volcanic activity, this roadway through the Amargosa Mountains features hues of green, red, pink, purple and yellow.
Statuesque figures entirely composed of salt offer tourists an eerie sight at the Devil’s Golf Course. The fragile formations were created through erosion with water and wind alike. Because of the slightly higher elevation of the Devil’s Golf Course as compared to the Badwater Salt Flats, water does not pool in this area, allowing the salt crystals to accumulate. It is reported that the salt extends down approximately two miles into the earth’s surface.
One of the most popular spots in Death Valley is Zabriskie Point. A hike for the hearty, the visitor is rewarded at the top with a spectacular view of the salt floor, gullies created by rain washing through the hills and incredible, striking geological formations.
Travelers visiting Death Valley National Park will find the area called Furnace Creek to be a true gem. The area is complete with beauty, mystique, adventure and history; definitely a destination that provides a point of interest for anyone visiting the area.
Personal Travel Websites by RV.Net ; Online Travel Journals by MyTripJournal.com ; Explore Good Sam Club Trip Journals ;Woodalls Trip Journals ; Travel Journals by Trailer Life Directory ; Traveling USA Travel Blogs
No, they’re not going anywhere, but with careful planning you could feasibly see them all by the end of next year (especially all you full-timers out there). I’ve chosen them at random from different regions of North America for their environmental and geologic variety. Think I left some out? Post a comment with your Top 10 parks!
10. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon: Situated at the top of the Cascade Mountain Range in southern Oregon, the lake was formed when snowmelt filled the volcanic basin left over from the eruption of Mount Mazama more than 7,000 years ago. The picturesque lake is a deep, pure blue with two islands in the middle. At 592 meters, it’s the deepest lake in the U.S. and the 7th deepest in the world. Entrance is $10 per vehicle for a 7-day pass. Mazama Campground has 200 sites with running water, flush toilets, picnic tables and fire rings, but no hookups. The campground is open from mid-June to early October, weather permitting. See current facilities information.
9. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: The world’s longest cave network extends for more than 360 miles below the mountains in southern Kentucky and is home to many strange nocturnal creatures. Tours of the cave have been offered since 1816. Hiking and riding trails and the Green and Nolin rivers offer hours of outdoor recreation above ground. Mammoth Cave Campground has no hookups but each site has a fire ring, picnic table and a paved parking area. Full service restrooms and a dumping station are available. Each site costs $17 per night with a 14-day limit. View camping regulations. See for yourself why Mammoth Cave ranks #17 on the Good Sam Club list of “20 Trips Every RVer Should Take” (details in Highways November 2007).
8. Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba: The park sits 1500’ above the surrounding prairie countryside on a rolling plateau covered with aspen, bogs, grasslands and hardwood forests. Such diverse habitats attract more wildlife than any other part of the province, so you’re sure to have a sighting or two. Try your hand at any of a wide range of outdoor activities on land or water, then take a break and watch for moose, elk, bears, foxes and other critters (remember to keep your distance). The park is open year-round but the visitor centre is closed for winter from Oct. 13 to May 21. Wasagaming Campground has full service campsites for about CA$40 per night. See Camping Reservation Info.
7. Badlands National Park, South Dakota: Marvel at the craggy buttes and pinnacles of this strange land full of marine reptile fossils. Though it may look inhospitable, Badlands is also home to the largest protected mixed-grass prairie in the U.S., where four species of native wildlife have been successfully reintroduced over the years. Cedar Pass Campground offers level sites with covered picnic tables for $10 per night. No showers or hookups are available, but there is a dump station, flush toilets and cold running water. No campfires are permitted due to fire danger. Download the 2008 Visitor Guide PDF.
6. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah: 1.2 million acres of beautiful red desert canyons and rock formations contrast with the brilliant blue/green water of manmade (often controversial) Lake Powell. You’ll be forever grateful if you bring a boat to this park (just leave the zebra mussels and quagga mussels at home) to cruise the slot canyons or enjoy a floating picnic while enjoying the scenery. You can also hike, bike, fish, and kayak. Just remember to drink lots of water to guard against the desert sun and heat. Also, be aware of flash-flood dangers during the monsoon season (mid-late summer & into fall). Entrance fee is $15 per vehicle, good for 7 days. Stay at one of the campgrounds operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, which offer full hookups and other amenities at sites of varying length (up to 50’).
5. Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming: The tower stands 1267’ above the Belle Fourche River and is made of igneous crystalline rock columns, which reflect sound when small pieces are struck. The hard rock tower was exposed when surrounding sedimentary rock eroded away. Native American tribes have long held the tower to be sacred. It’s a popular spot with rock climbers and is a 2.5 hour drive from Mount Rushmore, Ft. Laramie and Jewel Cave. Camping costs $12 per night and vehicle entrance costs $10 per vehicle for 7 days. Sites accommodate RVs up to 35’ (big rigs should think of staying at Mountain View RV Park in nearby Sundance) but there are no hookups, showers or dump station, although running water and accessible restrooms are available in the campground and at the picnic area. See more camping info.
4. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan: Smooth sand dunes tower above the coast of Lake Michigan along the edge of such beautiful inland features as grassy bluffs, beech-maple forests and dozens of lakes and rivers. Visit the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center for all the information you need about fun outdoor and indoor activities in the area. Entrance to the park is $10 per vehicle. Stay at the Platte River Campground, (10 miles from the visitor center in the town of Empire) which has a variety of back-in and pull thru spots with electrical hookups. Full restrooms, trash bins and water spigots are located in the center of each loop, with a dump station at the campground entrance. Maximum 6 people per campsite and max trailer length is 35 ft. Sites are $21 per night plus a $3 fee if you make a reservation.
3. Banff National Park, Alberta: This alpine park in Canada’s Rocky Mountains was established in the 1880s shortly after discovery of natural sulphur hot springs by transcontinental railroad crews. Connected to three adjacent parks, the sum of the area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in1984 for its awesome, varied landscape of alpine lakes, glaciers, waterfalls and majestic mountain peaks. Of the park’s 13 campsites, only Tunnel Mountain has full hookups and two others offer electrical only. Campsite fees range from CA$30-40 nightly based on type of services provided. The resort town of Banff has all the normal amenities (banks, grocery, postal service etc.) and also hosts the Banff Arts Festival in June-August.
2. Pinelands National Reserve, New Jersey: Covering 1.1 million acres in parts of seven counties in southern New Jersey, the area is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that protects pine forests, farms, historical settlement sites, and scenic small towns. Two-thirds of the park is privately-owned, with about 700,000 people living within the park. Park administrators ask you to be mindful of private property and leave the park as you found it. A diverse landscape of bogs, hardwood swamps, dense forests and pine lowlands provide a home for many hundreds of plant and animal species, including many rare and endangered varieties. Stay at Turtle Run Campground in Wading River, NJ—in the heart of the pinelands yet close to Atlantic City and Long Beach Island. It’s a Good Sam Park with full hookups, free showers and RV sites from 35’-38’ long.
1. Everglades National Park, Florida:The park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and protects many rare and endangered plants and animals. Located at the southern tip of Florida, it is open year-round but some areas may be closed during the rainy wet season (summer). You can hike, bike or paddle the myriad trails; have a picnic; go fishing or boating (only for the skilled helmsman), and camp out under the stars. Entrance is $10 per vehicle (good for 7 days) and camping costs $16 per night per site. Both Long Pine Key Campground (max 45’) and the Flamingo Campground (max 40’) accommodate RVs, but there are no hookups anywhere in the park. Restrooms have running water (Flamingo has cold water showers) and each campground has a dumping station. See campground rules PDF for more info.