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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Rediscovering our roots: Steps to increase accessibility to and acceptance of people of color in America’s national parks


The United States’ history is marred by systemic oppression, even within parks and protected areas, including national parks. Major barriers for people of color to public lands include accessibility, welcomeness, and safety concerns. Although national parks are one of the nation’s greatest ideas, and while the National Park Service states that diversity and inclusion are priorities, it has not been wholly successful in creating meaningful change to reach these goals. This article examines some of the National Park Service’s efforts to diversify visitation demographics and offers recommendations on how to further increase and diversify visitors to the national park system. This is not intended to discredit the National Park Service, but rather to offer suggestions and context for ways it can remain relevant as our nation deals with times of uncertainty. Alleviating transportation constraints, providing adequate opportunities for non-white recreation and personal experiences, and transitioning from Eurocentric narratives within historical interpretation to local, minority-driven narratives are the main recommendations. The purpose of this article is to illuminate the vitality of accessibility and unbiased historical interpretation as means to increase diversity of visitation to national parks. As such, while this article focuses on the National Park Service, it is intended to benefit any public land-managing agency aiming to remain relevant to its constituents. Movement away from Eurocentric historical narratives and recreational activities is beneficial to all as a means to catalyze empathy and understanding for every American’s lived experience. [This is a paper from “Systemic Threats to Parks & Protected Areas,” the 2020 George Wright Society Student Summit.]

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