Stephanie Sanchez, Cronkite News Service, September 11, 2007
“!Válganme las víboras! (for goodness’ snakes),” a brochure warns guests treading among the towering cactuses here. Those visitors often include school groups from Mexico hiking with bilingual rangers. During the summer, the ranger might be a teacher supplied by a Tucson school district with a large percentage of Hispanic students.
As the nation becomes increasingly diverse, Saguaro and other national parks are working to connect with Hispanics.
“We want to make it more comfortable, and we also want to let them know that the park does have a rich Hispanic history,” said Bob Love, chief ranger at Saguaro National Park. advertisement
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument has added Spanish subtitles to its visitor-orientation films. Tumacacori National Historical Park, featuring ruins of Spanish colonial missions, uses its “Junior Ranger Day” to invite southern Arizona Hispanic families take part in a scavenger hunt. At Petrified Forest National Park, rangers are learning Spanish.
Southeast of Sierra Vista, Coronado National Memorial, which commemorates and interprets the Spanish explorer’s expedition, partners with two parks in Sonora to promote awareness among Hispanics on both sides of the border.
“We’re looking to find ways to tell the story of Coronado,” said Denise Shultz, the park’s chief of interpretation. “The whole idea of immigration is what it meant then and what it means now and the fact that it is continuing.”
Hispanics, who account for more than a quarter of Arizona’s population, represent a vast potential market for national parks. They are nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority group, according to the Census Bureau.
The National Park Service doesn’t track visitors by race, but recent studies of some parks outside Arizona have found that minorities are underrepresented.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s national parks, recreation areas, monuments and historic sites are eager to attract more visitors. Annual visitor counts have declined 21 percent overall since a peak in 1993, with Grand Canyon National Park a notable exception, according to National Park Service data. Saguaro National Park’s 620,000 visitors in 2006 represented a 25 percent decline from 1993.
Clint Wall, research manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, a Boulder, Colo.-based trade association for outdoor-recreation businesses, said offering information in Spanish is welcoming to Hispanics, even those who speak English and Spanish. He added that young Hispanics—one in three nationally is under 18—represent a large source of potential park visitors long-term.