A researcher at the University of Missouri says he’s learned why ethnic minorities don’t visit national and state parks very often.
Studies have shown visitors to U.S. national and state parks are disproportionately white. The number of African-Americans who visit them is particularly small by comparison.
Assistant professor KangJae “Jerry” Lee said one reason is that blacks’ access to parks was limited during segregation.
“It is unreasonable to expect them to appreciate parks because their parents were not able to visit parks, their grandparents or even great-grandparents were not able to visit them,” said Lee
Other reasons, he said, include continuing racial conflicts in communities near parks, and a lack of black heritage in parks.
“There are many health and social benefits to visiting parks and engaging in outdoor recreation activities, and it’s a serious social inequality and justice issue if those benefits created by tax dollars are not shared by African-Americans,” said Lee.
Lee studied attendance at Cedar Hill State Park in Texas. Near the park, he said, is a predominantly middle-class and African-American community, yet few members of that community visit the park. Lee interviewed members of the community and learned that many had no interest in the park or chose to avoid going there due to a history of racial discrimination in the area and concerns about how they would be treated if they visited the park.
He wants to conduct further study, but thinks similar situations likely exist elsewhere.
“I think the issues are prevalent around the country and applicable to many national and state parks because of African Americans’ common experience of racial discrimination and segregation that has been perpetuated in this country for more than centuries,” said Lee.
Lee hopes park operators will take note of his findings so far.
“If Missouri state parks take into account some of my findings and come up with some new strategies for reaching out to different racial groups, that would be great, and I’m very interested in working with them,” said Lee.
Lee hopes to follow-up with a national survey of recreation activities among ethnic minorities.