Editor’s Note: Ted Nelson recently wrote an article for the Chicago Examiner on a special trip Oprah Winfrey took to Yosemite National Park. The following excerpt explains the special mission of this trip and its larger context of under-representation of African Americans as national park visitors.
Chicago’s own Oprah Winfrey and her best friend Gayle embarked on an 11 day road trip culminating in an adventure in Yosemite National Park. The trip was inspired by a letter from Yosemite park ranger Shelton Johnson to Oprah. Mr. Johnson bemoaned the fact that he meets travelers from all over Europe and even Africa, but yet rarely meets African-American families from Chicago or Boston.
African-Americans make up approximately 12.4% of the U.S. population according to Wikipedia as of 2009. Unfortunately, they only represent 1% of the visitors to America’s national parks.
First of all, it is unfortunate that African-Americans do not or cannot visit the parks. The Great Outdoor Initiative by President Obama is trying to help those that are unable to visit the park with grants to help inner city students visit national parks.
A love of the outdoors is something that needs to be cultivated. If someone has never experienced adventure travel they are unaware what they are missing. Many African-American people would most likely enjoy they outdoors. However, they have not had an opportunity to experience it. Most often it is parents that instill a love of a hobby in their children. If African-Americans are not visiting the parks then they are obviously not bringing their kids, so the issue continues to perpetuate.
Some worry that when more people travel outdoors it will lead to crowded parks and a diminished experience for all. There are always places to find solitude if one works hard enough. The more people that get outside and experience the joys of outdoor travel the more people there are that realize how important saving our national treasures are.
One of the goals of this column is to inspire people to hike, bike, canoe, ski in order to raise awareness to conservation. It is alarming that 10% or more of the population is not taking advantage of our beautiful outdoor places and I thank Oprah for using her enormous public platform to galvanize awareness to this predicament.
Read the full article.