Second Comprehensive National Parks Service Survey Reveals Little Change in Ethnic Visitation in U.S. Parks

15 August 2011

Recently released, the Second NPS Comprehensive Survey of the American Public, conducted from 2008 through 2009, shows little change in the major racial and ethnic groups visiting national parks.

The report is part of an ongoing effort by the National Park Service (NPS) to understand how different population groups relate to the national parks and found:

  • Those U.S. residents who could name a unit of the National Park System they had visited in the previous two years were predominantly white and non-Hispanic.
  • Hispanic respondents (of any race) and African-Americans each comprised a smaller share of recent visitors than their proportion of the total sample.
  • Asian respondents and American Indians/Alaska Natives were represented among visitors in roughly the same proportions as their fractions of the sample, as a whole.
  • Visitation differences by race/ethnic group seem not to have changed much since the previous survey in 2000.
  • Among respondents who had not visited in the past two years, the reason for not visiting was most commonly that they "just don't know that much about NPS units."  Hispanic, Asian and African-Americans were more likely to agree with this statement, than non-Hispanic whites, both among recent visitors and non-visitors.
The survey concluded that the issue of underserved populations is a critical one for the NPS in an increasingly diverse 21st century and recommends the following considerations:
  • Raise awareness - conduct a campaign of publicity and education using media serving different ethnic and racial communities.
  • Convert awareness to visits - by communicating relevance of park visits to ethnic audiences, adjusting interpretive programming to recognize achievements of underserved groups, provide opportunities for recreation in national parks sought by ethnic minorities, facilitate the provision of transportation to those who cannot reach parks on their own.
  • Welcome visitors - increase the number of signs in Spanish as evidence that Spanish speaking visitors are welcomed, improve service and welcome by all park workers (inside and outside parks) to all park visitors regardless of ethnic origin, promote cultural literacy and sensitivity among park workers, better understand and accommodate visitor preferences and family structures.
  • Understand the  importance of the park experience to park visitors... they're not just there for the place but for accessible, relevant and desirable experiences that build beloved and lasting memories.