For more than 60 years, the National Park Service has been trying to reach out to African Americans and Latinos. But its 395 parks, monuments, waterways, historic places and recreational areas remain largely the province of white Americans and tourists from around the world.
In an interview, Park Service Director Jon Jarvis reiterated an old lament: Parks must attract a more diverse slice of the American public or eventually risk losing taxpayer support. Yet only about 1% of the nearly 4 million people who visit Yosemite each year are African Americans.
So officials were elated earlier this month when they learned that two groups of African Americans, the one from Grace United Methodist and one from the Inglewood Senior Center, were touring the park on the same day.
That meant there were more than 65 black Americans on the valley floor on the same day, an event so rare that ranger Shelton Johnson–who is of African American and Native American descent and has worked in Yosemite for 18 years–called it “possibly unprecedented.”
“After decades of wringing our hands over the diversity issue, the needle is finally starting to move in a positive direction,” Johnson said, acknowledging that there still was a long way to go.