National Parks Face Bleak Future Without Latinos

Aaron Ableman, co-founder of Balance Edutainment, which aims to teach kids about conservation through entertainment, says one way to do that is through the "ubiquitous power of pop culture."

He said kids are even more interested in conservation than adults, especially when it's presented in a way that resonates with them, like through hip hop or YouTube videos.

The key, he said, is that "at the root of it, there needs to be a powerful story."

Rue Mapp, co-founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, an effort to get minority kids into nature, said the park service needs to do a better job of conveying that there are national parks and monuments near many urban areas and that they are affordable.

She cautioned against bundling all Latinos together or all African-Americans in a group. Different communities will respond differently to information, she said, so the parks need to test what works and not assume that a blanket outreach effort will be successful.

The National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks, has focused recently on improving access to the parks for Latinos and other minorities. The organization has an American Latino Heritage Fund devoted specifically to making sure the national parks and monuments tell the Latino experience as an integral part of the American story. (Disclosure: Fusion Executive Producer Miguel Ferrer is on the ALHF Board). Last year, for example, the César E. Chávez monument was established to recognize the contributions of the renowned labor leader.

Midy Aponte, executive director of the American Latino Heritage Fund, said her organization tries to educate Latinos through social media and other campaigns that the parks are open to everyone and that Latinos and other minorities have played a critical role in their history. The foundation use things like Twitter and Facebook to combat the myths that the parks are expensive or that memberships are required. They also run a program called Ticket to Ride that offers transportation to the parks.

Aponte said the foundation wants to "educate this audience not only about their history and heritage being reflected in the parks, but also that they're here and 'Let's go enjoy them.'"

'White people aren't going to save the earth," Griffith said. "It's going to take all of us and so all of us have to be engaged. The people right now making the calls need to be reaching out to user groups and kids and making sure they feel welcome."

He added that if there were more of an outcry from the public, he thinks that would already be happening.

"I think it has to happen or our natural parks are going to become obsolete," Griffith said. "If they want to stay in the game, we need to diversify."

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