As the National Park Service turns 100, a new campaign aims to make the countrys natural spaces more appealing to all Americans, regardless of race, over the next century
In the sweltering heat of a summer day, I walked along the visitor trails of Yosemite national park. I had just made the five-hour drive from my childhood home in Los Angeles to glimpse a vision of the future. There in the valley surrounded by high towers of stone, I watched as thousands of tourists from all over the world marvelled at the sheer granite walls of El Capitan, Washington Column and Half Dome. Like ancient cathedrals of divine architecture, these magnificent features stand as monuments to the notion that the natural heritage of our nation must be preserved for all time.
Throughout my life I have enjoyed spending time in the outdoors. Despite having grown up in the urban heart of LA, I frequently ventured into the wild places of California, from the slopes of the San Gabriel mountains to the summit of Mount Whitney. Though I was blessed, thanks to sacrifices of my parents, with a lifetime learning and playing in nature, on this occasion, as with many visits to the valley, I noticed that I was among the very few people of colour there. And though I felt no less welcome to enjoy the splendour of this magnificent place, I wondered how it might be possible to encourage tourism to Yosemite and other national parks that reflects the diverse population of the US as a whole.
There are many reasons why African Americans and other ethnic minorities dont make more use of the great outdoors. Racial oppression of the past gouged deep wounds which persist today, in the form of the limited disposable income and leisure time necessary to holiday in remote places. Add to that few personal mentors or family traditions of days away from the city to enjoy camping, hiking and fishing, and the result is a generation of citizens disenfranchised of a rich cultural legacy.