The untold story of America’s National Parks

national parksWhen you envision a day at a national park, do you see a diverse group of Americans shaping and enjoying the vast amounts of wilderness protected and brought to you by our government? Maybe? Probably not. According to Caroline Finney, a geographer and assistant professor at UC Berkeley, before we can think about increasing and diversifying participation in our national parks, we first must get the history right. Caroline Finney believes how that history has been told and who has been left out impacts which groups visit our parks today.

In this Boston Globe piece, Finney is interviewed about her newest book, “Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors.” Her book arrives at a time when many national park agencies are striving to reflect our country’s demographic shift among the ranks of their employees and park visitors. Finney states:

There’s this prevailing myth of black Americans as alienated from nature, as urban, as deeply unattached. Well, I push back on that, because I think we are actually very attached.

There are people of color who have invested blood, sweat, and tears into the land whose stories aren’t acknowledged at all, let alone being recognized as people who care about the environment.

The interview concludes with Finney’s advice to any effort to broaden participation in our national park system:

If you’re someone who believes in the protection and preservation of a natural space, who’s going to do that? It’s going to be people. The changing demographics in this country mean that those people aren’t going to look like the people from 60 or 70 years ago who were doing it. If you’re going to engage people in terms of stewardship and protecting natural spaces, boy, there has to be a big overhaul. You can’t talk about conservation without talking about people and difference and access. And making that connection is part of the big challenge.

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