Have you been to a national park lately? If so, then chances are, you're white and have a relatively high income.
Recently I've attended several events about children, families and outdoor play and learning. I noticed that, whether it was a professional event held in a conference room or a family event in a park, most of the attendees looked like me. This observation is borne out by research. Though some advances in gender diversity have been made within the "green workforce", racial diversity lags far behind.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) found that visitors to parks in Minnesota are more likely to be white and non-Hispanic and have higher incomes than the Minnesota population overall. In 2007, 98% of park users were white. Some creative strategies on the part of the DNR have begun to shift the balance, though. Focus group information gathered by the Metropolitan Council suggests that various cultural groups use parks more or less frequently, use the parks differently, have different needs, and hold different perceptions about parks, such as how safe they are.
Disparities in who has access to and who uses outdoor recreation and learning environments matters. We know that time spent in nature provides a host of health, mental health, educational and developmental benefits, especially for children and youth. Getting kids and families of color and immigrant children and families out into nature is increasingly important as our state's demographics diversify.
We might be more successful in getting people into nature if the adults -- the park rangers, trail guides, naturalists, youth workers, and environmental educators -- reflected our state's increasing diversity. In part, this is the work of Wilderness Inquiry's Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA). UWCA is also connecting thousands of urban youth to nature through learning adventures in parks, lakes and rivers in our urban environment with the aim of improving health and engagement with learning. Maybe these young people will engage with nature enough to pursue careers or avocation in the parks as adults.
These disparities in access and use are the focus of a Nov. 5 all-day event in Maplewood, Minn., sponsored by the Minnesota Children and Nature Connection. "Connecting Diverse Communities to the Outdoors: Addressing Culture, Equity and Access." The issues will be framed by Ryan O'Connor, Ramsey County policy and planning director, informed by the research of Yingling Fan at the University of Minnesota and Raintry Salk of the Metropolitan Council, as well as panelists highlighting local, state and national perspectives. Attendees will get involved in designing initiatives to address culture, equity and access. The event will end on a fun note, with an informal reception and pecha kucha style talks. Consider yourself invited!
Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health
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