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LV Groups Celebrate Diversity And Land Conservation

red_rock_canyon_two.jpg

Bureau of Land Management/Flickr

Snow dusts the the rust colored rocks of Red Rock National Conservation area.

In Nevada, most of the entertainment centers around casinos and fancy restaurants. But the vast amount of public lands that surround the city presents the opportunity for a more rugged variation of entertainment. That is, for some.

The National Park Service turns 100 this year, and it has done some soul searching. As it turns out, more than 80 percent of all national parks visitors, volunteers and staff are white.

People have noticed this lack of diversity. The National Park Service now has a whole department dedicated to it.

Hilerie Patton is a former public information officer for the Bureau of Land Management. 

She told KNPR's State of Nevada that sometimes natural resource agencies --  like the Park Service or the BLM -- look at the African-American community as a monolith.

"A lot of times when they're going to do a lot of outreach, it's what I call 'check the box,'" Patton said, "There will be the cases of 'we're just going to serve the underserved' community of kids. Where there are a lot of people who have money to travel."

For example, she said, reaching out to traditionally black fraternities and sororities to have them add conservation and public lands to their platforms would be a way to connect with a more diverse group of people within the African-American community.

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"I think the outreach in terms of making sure that you reach out to people and connect with people is different," Patton said, "And a lot of times when they think about 'how do we create an outreach plan' or 'what do we need to do,' they don't have the right people at the table."

Patton said often administrators who are making decisions about attracting more people of color to the national parks or conservation areas are from rural areas where they may not have experience with people from different cultures.

"They may not have experienced people of other cultures and so a lot of times they don't know how to deal with it," she said, "It is understanding that the demographics of this country have changed and so the parks, the BLM lands, the forests lands they have to change along with them."

Beyond some of the structural elements, Patton believes there are historical connotations with the "woods" that keep black people from wanting to enjoy the outdoors.

"In our community, a lot of times we're thinking of it as 'the woods,' and a lot of the terrible things have happened out there," she said.

Family history also plays a part in why many Hispanics may not enjoy the beauty of the desert Southwest, according to Jocelyn Torres, the Nevada program director for Conservation Lands Foundation.

Torres said many people in the Hispanic community have families who worked on the land and consider being outside work, not pleasure. She also said that people have family who crossed the desert as part of their immigration journey.

"I think too with folks who have immigrated across the desert there's a lot of bad experiences and bad memories," she said, "Going to places like Gold Butte that's a similar landscape can sometimes trigger those memories."

Rudy Zamora is the program director for the environmental advocacy group Chispa. He said enjoying outdoor recreation is "something our families don't tend to do." 

"I think we have to make an effort to introduce these lands and welcome more people of color into these public spaces," he said.

And everyone agreed that if skills used for camping, hiking and general outdoorsy-ness weren't learned as kids, then it is less likely that someone would try it as an adult. 

Toyya Mahoney is trying to change that in Las Vegas' African-American community. She is the co-organizer for the local chapter of Outdoor Afro. Mahoney said information is vital to the effort.

She said letting people know what parks and recreation areas are surrounding Las Vegas, the deals that are available like the America the Beautiful pass and the Every Kid in a Park pass. 

"Understanding that it is a family pass that allows every 4th grader to have the opportunity at public lands," Mahoney said.

Her group in Las Vegas has only been around since May, but they are using social media to get the word out about the hikes, camping trips, boating excursions and more they're planning. 

Other local groups have come together, as well. July 16 through 24 is Latino Conservation Week, and partnerships among the Hispanic Access Foundation, Battle Born Progress, Chispa NV, Conservation Land Foundation, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and the Sierra Club have formed to host inclusive outdoor events all week. 

From Funny or Die: Black Hiker with Blair Underwood

Guests

Jocelyn Torres, Nevada program director, Conservation Lands Foundation; Rudy Zamora, program director, Chispa; Hilerie Patton, former public information officer, BLM; Toyya Mahoney, co-organizer, Outdoor Afro

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