The National Parks Service Keeps it 100. But, getting people of color and LGBTQ folks into the woods is still an elusive goal

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“There is nothing so American as our national parks… the fundamental idea behind the parks is that the country belongs to the people… –Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Celebrate good times, come on!

The National Park Service turns 100 years old this weekend. From exploding geysers at Yellowstone to the silent battlefields at Gettysburg,  400 of the 412 national parks will be free to the public from August 25 through August 28. New Mexico boasts 18 national parks, including the Gila National Forest – the world’s first designated wilderness. The National Park Service encourages everyone to Find Your Park this weekend and to enjoy our national monuments, parks and wildlife preserves. Hike those trails! Tell ghost stories as you roast weenies outside that creepy cabin in the woods!

Although the national park centennial is a time of celebration across the country, the majority of attendees who visit the great outdoors don’t necessarily reflect the diversity of the corporis populi. 100 years after the establishment of the National Park Service, people of color are still half as likely to visit national parks as their white counterparts.


In fact, according to a survey conducted in 2009 by the University of Wyoming and the National Park Service, only about 7% of visitors to the were black, from 2008 to 2009. The number of Hispanics was only slightly higher at 9% percent with Asian-Americans at only 3% – compared to a white visitors accounting for 78% of the national park’s visitors that year, and that’s just ONE park survey.

Now, there have been studies that reveal several reasons for the underrepresentation of people of color at national parks, including oh, you know, that pesky little impediment called racism. Visitors of color don’t always feel safe, hiking the trails and exploring nature’s valleys. What should be a relaxing trip to the mountains, or an afternoon of fishing by a stream can be as dangerous and stressful as being under suspicion and scrutiny in an urban setting for people of color – black people, especially. This is an unfortunate truth, and a particularly sad one – considering that among the first park rangers at Yosemite National Park were the famed the Buffalo Soldiers- the all-black regiment established in 1866, shortly after the American Civil War.

Buffalo Soldiers in the 24th Infantry carry out mounted patrol duties in Yosemit

Buffalo Soldiers in the 24th Infantry carry out mounted patrol duties in Yosemite

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park only recently hired its first black superintendent. Women, and LGBTQ park rangers are also necessary to employ, to reflect the great changes and strides forward in American life.  Look- the heritage of our national parks belong to ALL citizens – and therefore should be enjoyed by all.

There is a movement afoot to get more people of color to visit national parks. The Trail Posse, a media initiative in partnership with High Country News, aims to demystify the lack of diversity and inclusion in the outdoors, and get more people of color exploring nature by 2043. The American Latino Heritage Fund  recognizes over 400 years of North American, Latino history and heritage, and the desire to engage more people of Latino descent in the conservation and preservation of lands, ancient dwellings, and colonial landmarks of the people of Spain, North, Central and South America.

Declaring on their website that, “Everyone needs nature,” Outdoor Afro began as a blog in 2009, for black folk who love to camp. Today, Outdoor Afro is an national organization with more than 60 leaders from 28 states from around the country.

The United States is basically a big old national park of sorts – aspects of our collective history was made in the colonial pews of churches in New England, as well as the urban streets of New York City. THE WHITE HOUSE is part of the National Park Service for heaven’s sake! The National Park Service, with all its studies realized its outdoor monuments AND its hallowed halls must be relevant to all people. Ellis Island is a national park. So is the home of the Frederick Douglas. Not all sites listed among the 412 national parks require camping gear and sunblock to experience.

At the turbulent end of decade of civil unrest in the United States, a movement was born in the heart of Greenwich Village, Lower Manhattan, New York City.  We have come so far from the days when LGBTQ people were ostracized, barred from employment, treated for “mental illness” because of their sexual preference, extracted from neighborhoods, forced to hide in plain sight and beaten in the streets when their identities were discovered. You get the idea (and we still have a ways to go). It took a riot June 28, 1969 in the wee hours of the morning at the Stonewall Inn, and the women and men who took a stand that night to bring about spontaneous change in our society for the rights of LGBTQ people.


The Stonewall Inn was a safe haven and a prototype for today’s necessary, safer spaces movement. Now, it is protected by the National Park Service, thanks to the efforts of many, including our current POTUS and the ONLY President of the United States to address the need to preserve the history of LGBTQ people, and not as a separate-but-equal history. LGBTQ history (and the history of POC in America) is OUR history.




So, get out there! Climb a hill! Visit a battlefield! Walk through historic homes and buildings that hold all of our stories. Enjoy ‘Merica! Most importantly: