Minorities Not Taking Part in Wilderness Activities

Michael Hill, Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 11

Bunyan Bryant has camped by the shores of Lake Huron for decades and usually sees the same thing: green trees, blue skies and white people.

“I seldom see other African Americans or even other minorities camping,” said Bryant, director of the Environmental Justice Initiative at the University of Michigan. “Sometimes they might be with another church group or something like that, but truly speaking it doesn’t happen.”

It’s the same story from New York’s Adirondacks to Arizona’s canyons: There’s a lack of ethnic and racial diversity in the outdoor areas where people hike, camp, mountain bike, paddle and picnic. At a time when minority populations are growing, wilderness advocates and administrators are reaching out to blacks, Hispanics and Asians.

“We’re only serving part of the public now, and we aspire to represent many, many people who are not using all the public lands,” said Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

The Outdoor Industry Foundation this summer reported that only 6 percent of people taking part in outdoor activities such as hiking and kayaking last year were black and 4 percent were Hispanic—while blacks and Hispanics combine to make up 27 percent of the U.S. population.

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Advocates and academics say cultural factors can play a large part. Marta Maldonado of Iowa State University’s sociology department said the concept of “wilderness” is a western European idea, not one necessarily shared by minority groups. As U.S. Forest Chief Dale Bosworth noted in a speech early this year, “The face of conservation has traditionally been rural and white. “

For blacks descended from sharecroppers, camping might have associations of living on a farm and of poverty, Bryant said. Hispanics whose families are new to this country might have the same sort of negative associations with roughing it, Spears said.

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