By Hilary Corrigan

The Bulletin

As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this season, a new poll by a coalition of groups explores the views of people of color about public lands and why they don’t visit such sites more often.

The biggest barrier is a lack of knowledge — people don’t know where the lands are, how to access them or how much visiting will cost, the poll found. Yet outreach and education targeting those communities could largely address misconceptions about the time, distance and cost involved in visiting public lands, according to poll findings.

The poll also found overwhelming approval among the voters for different proposals that seek to improve access to public lands and to provide more culturally diverse offerings. That includes increasing the number of urban parks and creating new parks, monuments and historic and cultural sites that focus on minorities’ contributions to the country. Rue Mapp, founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro and a Next 100 Coalition member, noted a chance to amplify stories such as those of the Buffalo Soldiers and Harriet Tubman.

The poll surveyed 900 registered voters — 300 each from the African-American, Latino and Asian-Pacific American communities — across the nation on their perceptions of America’s national parks and other public lands. The poll comes from New America Media, a California-based collaboration of ethnic media organizations; the Next 100 Coalition, a nationwide collaboration of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community organizations; and Bendixen & Amandi International, a Miami-based communications consulting firm. The groups discussed the results with the media on Tuesday.

The poll found strong interest in the outdoors among voters of color, with 70 percent participating in outdoor activities that are often offered on public lands.

The findings challenge perceptions that communities of color lack interest in public lands — a misconception that the groups said stems from studies reporting lower rates of doing outdoor activities than white people. But outreach and education targeting underrepresented groups would help communities of color visit public lands more, the poll found.

Many people don’t realize that there’s likely a national park or forest near them, and instead think of well-known, far-off places like Yosemite National Park or the Grand Canyon when they do consider public lands, said Anthony Williams, special projects director with Bendixen & Amandi International.

The groups highlighted the poll’s findings as especially significant now because of the country’s changing demographics. The U.S. Census predicts that by 2043, a majority of U.S. residents will be people of color — yet National Park Service studies find low attendance rates from communities of color, the groups noted. Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media, emphasized an opportunity to help others learn of the parks and to help the land management agencies improve their outreach and education.

The Next 100 Coalition has petitioned President Barack Obama for specific changes, saying that national parks, forests, monuments and other public lands play an important role in the nation’s identity but that they have not always reflected its diversity or even welcomed everyone.

“This has to change. Our public lands must reflect, honor and engage all people — for our families, and our future,” the coalition stated, adding that pressures like development and climate change mean that public lands will need a broad base of support to conserve them.

The coalition wants a presidential memorandum directing federal land management agencies to be more inclusive when protecting sites, engaging communities, telling stories and hiring staff. The coalition has specifically called for reviewing federal land management agency efforts to recruit and hire staff with more diverse backgrounds; reviewing federal programs to find ways to boost participation from culturally diverse communities and improve their access to public lands and waters; and a pilot project to show how to coordinate outreach among different agencies and sites.

The coalition also seeks expanded youth internship programs in federal land management agencies; and greater coordination and investment in agencies’ partnerships with historically black colleges, tribal universities and other educational programs for underserved communities to connect young people with internships, mentors and full-time careers in federal land management.

— Reporter: 541-617-7812,