Integrating the great outdoors


Black and hispanic Americans are chronically underrepresented in their use of the National Park System. Geographer Carolyn Finney is trying to change that.

Her new book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, examines the historical context that framed the wilderness as a place for white people and erased our knowledge of black Americans' participation in conservation, ecology, and forestry. You can read a great interview with her at The Boston Globe:

IDEAS: Who were some of the African-Americans environmentalists whose contributions surprised you most?

FINNEY: I interviewed so many people with amazing stories I had never heard of, stories I couldn’t believe the mainstream environmental movement hadn’t picked up on. Like John Francis, who spent 22 years walking across the US and Latin America to raise awareness about the environment. He did 17 years of that without talking! Or MaVynee Betsch, a black woman who gave away all her wealth, over $750,000, to environmental causes. Or Betty Reid Soskin, who at 92 is the oldest park ranger in the country, and who helped to get the Rosie the Riveter National Park on the books. What all of this says to me is the mainstream still has so much work to do to embrace and engage these stories, not just as black stories but as human stories that we can all relate to at a really basic level.

Thanks Christy Koerth!

Image: Some rights reserved by Varin.

Notable Replies

  1. Wait, is something keeping them out? Maybe they just don't want to go?

  2. Please read the interview, which is with a black woman who explains how societal expectations made her feel unwelcome in wilderness settings.

  3. Here's another factor: it costs money to take time off work, unless you're salaried. It costs money to travel to a national park. It costs money to buy camping gear. The great outdoors is a middle-class experience.

  4. Pfft. That is total baloney. Disney World is a middle class experience. Camping, hiking, fishing, and picnics are the poor person's Disney.

    Unless you live in one of the dryer states out west, just about everyone is easily within an hour from a lake. It doesn't have to be a National Park. There are ton of state and city lakes. Fishing and a picnic for a day is CHEAP. Most states kids under a certain age fish for free. In state fishing licenses are a penitence. Walking around or having a picnic is free. Some places have actual trails and what not laid out. Missouri has some some awesome caves.

    Simple camping gear is not that expensive. It used to be you could get surplus army tents cheap, but now you can get a decent tent or $20-30 at Walmart. Splurge and get an air mattress. A few chairs and some Off and you're on your way.

  5. Ms. Finney can feel this way all she wants but it wont change the data in the survey she cherry picks.

    The real reason according to the participants in the survey is:

    1 Geography- The majority of National Parks in the US are located in areas where the population is mostly white.

    2 Lifestyle- "African American visitors were the most likely to view outdoor exhibits or park movies and to participate in cultural demonstrations or ranger-led tours." on the flip side they were least likely to participate in Hiking or jogging for 30 continuous minutes.

    All from the same 2011 survey commissioned by the National Park Service mentioned in the interview:

    The question should be why do black folks dislike Hiking or jogging?

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