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“The blinding whiteness in the great outdoors”—diversity and national parks

National Park Service employees poster

"I see lots of other people who remind me of myself: aging and white."

The US national park system, often called America’s best idea, attracted record visitation last year. The increased popularity is buttressed by a recent poll that indicated the American public places great value on national parks and believe the US government should provide more funding for them. In fact, some point to the contribution national parks make to the US economy as justification.

In addition to annual congressional appropriates for national parks, another stream of revenue comes from entrance fees to individual parks. While annual appropriations come from every US tax-paying citizen equally, entrance fees are only paid by those people (including visitors from other countries) that visit those specific parks. Therefore, recent proposals to increase entrance fees at national parks across the country have been met with criticism.

In addition to the heavier burden these costs would place on visitors, an increase in entrance fees could also affect the demographics of national park visitors. Despite record visitation in 2016, less than 20% of those visitors were non-white. The National Park Service has made great strides toward diversifying visitorship to national parks, both through marketing and educational programs as well as diversifying the types of sites represented in the national park system. The National Park Service has launched a series of initiatives that focus on Latin American heritage, Asian Pacific heritage, and LGBTQ heritage represented in existing parks; these initiatives also look at possible new sites for enshrining in our national park system. Last year, Stonewall Inn in New York City was designated a national monument—the first such designation solely for a site’s LGBTQ associations.

Recently the National Park Service also launched a Reconstruction Era initiative in the National Historic Landmarks Program. This initiative looks to increase awareness of this extremely trouble aspect of the nation’s history and increase the number of landmarks associated with civil rights in the park system. But the proposed increase in entrance fees could have a serious unintended consequence—making access to national parks more difficult for people of color. Opinion writer Dan White explains why.


Making national parks more expensive will only make them whiter

By Dan White

The Washington Post

October 31, 2017

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