by Joan Smedinghoff
December 29, 2016
Beverly-Triton Beach Park in Edgewater, Maryland, is blanketed by snow on February 17, 2015. The park used to be a private beach open only to whites and gentiles until a civil rights lawsuit was filed in the 1960s. Now the park is managed by Anne Arundel County and is open to the public seven days a week, but its history calls to mind the fact that, for so long, ethnic and religious minorities were excluded from many outdoor spaces.
That history of exclusion has led in part to a perception that people of color aren’t welcome in nature. The most recent survey of visitors to national parks found that minorities made up just over 20 percent, even though they make up almost 40 percent of the population.
The National Park Service, seeing the disconnect between the demographics of its visitors and that of the country, is working to increase the number of minorities who visit national parks. At the same time, minority-led groups like Latino Outdoors and Outdoor Afro are working to increase engagement in outdoor activities by people of color, and create new leaders in conservation education.
One way states are encouraging everyone to visit park lands is through First Day Hikes. Now in its sixth year, this national initiative encourages outdoor exploration and recreation in the New Year. On January 1st, all 50 states will offer guided hikes with park rangers, naturalists and volunteers who can share knowledge about a park’s natural and cultural history. Along with hiking, activities include biking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, strolling and more. These activities are a great opportunity for everyone to get outside in the New Year, from those who have never hiked before to those who are just looking for a good excuse to get outside.
Find a First Day Hike in your area.