Why Do So Few Minority People Visit National Parks? Visitation and the Accessibility of “America’s Best Idea”

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Selima Sultana, Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/

Abstract: It has been said that national parks are “America's Best Idea,” they are among the most famous and instantly recognizable places in the country, and they attract visitors from all over the world. Yet visitors to these sites are overwhelmingly white. A number of theoretical perspectives have been proposed for the absence of minority visitors, including socioeconomic marginality, differing cultural norms, and the lingering legacy of discrimination, but geography is not one of the usual explanations. Given the strong associations between particular regions of the country and the locations of parks, as well as the uneven spatial distribution of population, the absence of geography as an explanation is striking. We examine this issue with the expectation that geography is an important part of the explanation for low minority visitation rates. Put simply, do potential minority visitors live anywhere near national park units? Are they more likely to visit the ones to which they live nearest? This study uses the geographic concept of accessibility to examine the spatial relationships between national parks and potential minority visitors. Accessibility was measured using driving times between each of 285 parks and county populations, with the results compared to a visitation database compiled for fifty-one park units. There is clearly a relationship between park visitation and the location of minority populations, in the sense that racial or ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented at closer and smaller national parks.

Additional Information

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 103(3), pp. 437–464.
Language: English
Date: 2012
accessibility, national parks, race

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