Big Parks Must Do More to Attract Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Met Council Says

Frederick Melo, Twin Cities, July 20, 2016

Asked what safety concerns kept them from visiting the metro’s regional parks, focus groups of African-Americans spoke worriedly about violent crime and accidents. Asians tended to bring up snakes, bees, hunters and water viruses.

African immigrants feared rape, killings, stabbings and drownings. Latinos brought up darkness, crime and animals. A combined focus group talked of fears of kidnappings and getting lost in the wilderness.

It might strike a park enthusiast as a dramatic list, but the common thread is that regional parks are big, scary places for many immigrants and people of color.

“A sense of safety was identified as one of the top five reasons for not visiting,” said Clare Cloyd, a spokeswoman for St. Paul Parks and Recreation.

Ethnic and racial minorities make up 24 percent of the seven-county metro and will make up 40 percent by the year 2040, but there’s one area where they’re still heavily underrepresented: regional parks.

Metropolitan Council officials say it’s time to tear down some of those barriers. Council surveys show 47 million visitors flock to the regional parks annually, but only 10 percent of them were people of color. More than a dozen focus groups held in 2013 and 2014 helped shed some light on why: lack of awareness, lack of time and fears about personal safety were cited as the top three key concerns. Transportation, language barriers, weather and costs also were in the top 10.

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From the slopes of the St. Croix Bluffs Regional Park to the ski trails at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, the 110 regional parks and trails across the metro will soon be held to a higher standard when it comes to serving communities of color.

The Met Council provides key forms of grant funding to the 10 cities, counties and parks groups that run regional parks. It will now ask them to spell out efforts to boost access for racial and ethnic minorities in their grant applications.

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The new requirements apply to parks operators looking to build a trail, a picnic pavilion or other capital improvements with state and Met Council bond funds. “For every $3 the state bonds, we kick in $2,” said Met Council spokesman John Schadl.

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“The people who visit our region’s parks should look like the people who make up the population of the region,” said Met Council Chair Adam Duininck, in a statement announcing the changes.

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