Magazine article Parks & Recreation

ORRRC at 40! Diversity in America's Parks and Outdoors

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

ORRRC at 40! Diversity in America's Parks and Outdoors

Article excerpt

"In the range of activities, as well as the total, nonwhites engage in outdoor recreation less than whites. The nonwhite rate of participation is markedly lower in water sports and in camping and hiking; it is higher in playing games and walking" (ORRRC Report to the President, p. 28).

Published in 1962, the report of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC) paid little or no attention to issues of diversity and under-represented minority audiences in outdoor settings. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil Rights Movement these reports did, however, touch on current participation and non-participation rates among nonwhite audiences. While the civil rights movement in America helped promote a widespread and more accurate awareness of color in American life, the issues surrounding minority involvement in outdoor recreation continued to go unnoticed. In addition, dramatic changes in U.S. immigration after 1960, from predominately white European to Hispanic and Asian immigrants (1) made understanding minority perspectives more important than ever before. This changing face of immigration not only impacted every major cultural and social institution in the country but it also impacted the conditions relating to economics and education.

As the United States continues to evolve into a more ethnically pluralistic society, the agencies entrusted with providing outdoor recreation opportunities must increase their attention to visitor diversity in order to better serve all of the American public. In this article we focus on two things. First, we explore the progress that has been made in explaining minority indifference regarding parks and outdoor recreation, and in so doing we will highlight a few current trends in the parks to broaden the appeal of our nation's treasures. Second, we suggest some of the actions that are necessary in order to achieve the democratization of the American outdoors. It is worth noting here that minority indifference to national parks and outdoor recreation is largely unexplored by researchers due in part to the perceived apathetic attitude of certain groups. While the lack of universal appeal of our nation's park system continues to be a source of embarrassment for the Park Service, research has yet to determine the definitive reasons for this lack of appeal.

Progress in Explaining Minority Indifference

Once America was a microcosm of European nationalities, today America is a depiction of the entire globe. Traditionalists distinguish between a multiracial society (which is acceptable), and a multicultural society (which they deplore). They argue that every society needs a universally accepted set of values, and that new arrivals should therefore be pressured to conform to the mentality upon which U.S. prosperity and freedom were built. Bloom, in Closing of the American Mind, writes,

"Obviously the future of America can't be sustained if people keep only to their own ways and remain perpetual outsiders. The society has got to turn them into Americans. There are natural fears that today's immigrants may be too much of a cultural stretch for a nation based on western values".

Similarly, Julian Simon (1989), professor of business administration at the University of Maryland states, "The life and institutions here shape immigrants and not vice versa." These comments focus our thinking on what it means to be an "American" and on our decision-making about how to refer to the various cultural groups that reside within the borders of the U.S. The metaphors we use to illustrate U.S. cultural diversity are continually evolving. For example, the early "melting pot" metaphor eventually gave way to one of "cultural pluralism." If how we describe ourselves continually changes, one can easily expect that intercultural and inter-ethnic social contact will continue to perpetuate cultural differences among recreation user groups. These differences, for example, occur in attitudes, behaviors, patterns of use and non-use, expectations of opportunities, and interactions with management practices. …

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