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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Parks Stewardship Forum

UC Berkeley

Courageous Conversations: Risks, Race, and Recreation in the United States


The narrative remains unchanged. The racial and ethnic demographics of the United States are changing, yet the agencies that manage our protected areas have not figured out how to prepare for these changes. Researchers and agencies working within protected areas are concerned with one simple question: How do we increase visitation and participation among communities of color? Several studies have focused on issues of constraints and barriers. Initiatives have centered on marketing strategies. Agencies have conducted surveys to examine their hiring practices. Sadly, these have not led to the desired outcomes. So, what are we missing, what ideas have we not explored, what are the appropriate next steps towards closing the perceived gap? It is the position of this paper that researchers have prioritized research questions and methodologies with which they are most familiar and comfortable. Collectively, we have failed to take on the hard questions and processes that are necessary to truly unpack the meaning and impact of Race within the United States. Overcoming the difficulties associated with investigating Race and recreation in protected areas requires courage on the part of researchers. Courage to challenge the research findings and practices of their colleagues, expectations/goals of funders, and, specifically for White researchers, the recreation preferences of their peer groups. Through personal stories and analogies, this paper presents three areas in which researchers need to practice the virtue of courage if we are truly to create safe spaces within our protected areas for Racially Marginalized Communities (RMCs).

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