Use of Multiple Methods: An Examination of Constraints Effecting Ethnic Minority Visitor Use of National Parks and Management Implications

By Roberts, Nina S.; Rodriguez, Donald A. | Ethnic Studies Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview
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Use of Multiple Methods: An Examination of Constraints Effecting Ethnic Minority Visitor Use of National Parks and Management Implications


Roberts, Nina S., Rodriguez, Donald A., Ethnic Studies Review


Understanding outdoor recreation participation and national park visitation by members of ethnic minority groups has been a particular focus of outdoor recreation researchers for the past twenty years. Attracting ethnic minorities, and understanding their recreation needs and interests, demands a multi-faceted approach and sustained commitment not only by the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) but by other resource management agencies as well.

The world has changed profoundly since the first national parks were created and the national park "idea" continues to provide benefits of fundamental importance to this country. Yet, despite the inspiration provided and uplifting of our spirits, there are unmet recreational needs and opportunities unfulfilled. Furthermore, as the complexion of the nation changes, our experiences as a people are also undeniably becoming more diverse. The future of the NPS may well be tied to the changing demographics of the country, in general, and the American West in particular. Empirical research on outdoor recreation experiences of ethnic minorities and national parks is on the rise yet still remains largely unexplored.

According to Machlis and Field (2000), "while the 'average visitor' has never existed, the diversity of visitors is likely to increase further in the next decade" (p. 7). This will serve to widen the gap among the visiting public regarding interpretation, communication, and management direction. We recognize that the ethnic diversity of visitors is likely to increase, bringing new recreation styles, uses, and needs to national parks and their bordering gateway communities. Furthermore, investigating the attitudes, perceptions and outdoor recreation experiences of ethnic minorities and national parks has received little research attention from an empirical standpoint (e.g., Floyd, 1999; Hutchison, 2000; Sasidharan, 2002; Solop, Hagen, & Ostergren, D., 2003).

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) in Colorado, receives over three million visitors annually. Although various diversity initiatives have achieved some notable successes (e.g., outreach to Denver-based youth groups), ethnic minorities and individuals from low income backgrounds are still underrepresented in outdoor recreation participation at RMNP. This study explores why this might be the case.

Terms and Nomenclature

Racial terms are sometimes problematic because of their imprecise social, cultural and geographic meaning. Language among racial and ethnic groups evolves over time and terms change with societal events and influences. The term "African American" has been in common usage in the parks and recreation literature. Also popular in this field is use of the term "Black". This article respectfully uses both of these terms interchangeably to be more inclusive, to not assume the meaning or connotation associated with each, and because respondents in this study self-identified using either one term or the other. Second, the generic term "Hispanic" was officially created by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1970 to designate people of Spanish origin; this is considered "inaccurate, incorrect, and often offensive" as used for all Spanish-speaking people or Latinos (Comas-Diaz, 2001).

Despite classification by the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals whose heritage is from Central, South or Latin America, and even Caribbean groups such as Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans, have "Latino" as their least common denominator and, according to Comas-Diaz (2001) is the preferred name of these populations. As a result of the predominant Mexican/Mexican American (e.g., Chicano) community in Colorado this paper uses the term "Latino(s)" from this point forward in general content, not including Census Bureau references that still includes use of "Hispanic" (U.S. Census, 2004).

Review of literature

Race, ethnicity, and culture

There are several reviews of literature on the topic of ethnicity/ race in parks and recreation (e.

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