Creating Diversity in the Outdoors

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Anyone who spends a significant amount of time camping in America's wild places knows that most of the faces you'll encounter on the trail are white. Let's face it: We're hurtin' for some diversity. Luckily, a few diligent groups like The National African-American RVers Association are trying to alter the landscape by encouraging African-Americans, Hispanics, and other varied ethnicities to give camping a go.

"We cater mostly to the family so that our young people will be able to grow up understanding the outside world and seeing the creation that God has created for us and how beautiful it is," said the Rev. John Womack of Boston, the group's president.

"In the early years, we didn't have the resources to camp. We didn't have the time off to camp," Womack said. "And for many people, life itself was camping. Our homes were like tents. We weren't anxious to run from one set of woods to the next."

Out of the 30 million people who regularly camp, only 300,000 are black, according to the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds. But beyond RV camping, Shelton Johnson, an African-American ranger at Yosemite, hopes to excite new generations to explore the outdoors with tales of the buffalo soldiers who pioneered Yosemite.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a major issue," Johnson said. "As the so-called browning of America goes on, if black people and other people of color aren't visiting campgrounds and parks, how is the National Park Service going to reach the public in the future?"

If the ethnic makeup of the outdoors broadens, we will all benefit from new experiences, challenges, and friendships, which is why many of us head into the wilderness in the first place. Look for a profile of the pioneering African-American hiker, conservationist, activist, and general outdoor-badass John "Planetwalker" Francis in the July/August issue of BACKPACKER.

— Ted Alvarez

Black campers battle stereotypes (Houston Chronicle)