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Parks for the People: A Comparative Analysis of Diversity Engagement between Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Yosemite National Park

Student: Cami Miller
Major: Anthropology
Minor: Spanish
Advisors: Dr. Zareen Thomas, Dr. David McConnell
This research examines how an urban and wilderness national park engage with diverse communities. The goal is to illuminate who visits these parks, why, and what the parks can do to encourage more diversity. I conducted eight interviews with park staff and analyzed each park’s visitors centers. I drew from critical race theory and theories of space in environmental anthropology to help explain how people of color have been excluded from environmental narratives and the creation of national parks which racializes these spaces and affects visitation. I concluded that first, the NPS must do a better job understanding how people of color’s experience with parks is racialized to better engage with these communities. Second, urban parks have the opportunity to adapt what experiences people can have in parks to better meet the needs of a wider range of people. Third, employing diversity is a key factor in improving future diversity.

Description

The purpose of this research is to examine how an urban and a wilderness national park engage with diverse communities. The goal is to illuminate who visits these parks and why and what the parks can do to encourage more diverse visitation. I conducted eight in-depth interviews with national park employees: four at Cuyahoga Valley National Park (urban) and four at Yosemite National Park (wilderness). I asked my contributors to describe the demographics of visitors and employees at their park, what barriers people may face to visiting or working in their park, and what engagement efforts they employ to try and remain relevant to diverse audiences. I accompanied my interviews with an in-depth observation of the visitor centers and museums at each park to analyze what stories the parks are telling. These stories reveal what narratives the parks find important and which ones they use to represent themselves. I drew from Carolyn Finney’s (2014) work on the whitewashed environmental movement to help explain how people of color have been excluded from environmental narratives and the creation of national parks. Using critical race theory, Elijah Anderson’s (2014) theory on the “white space”, and theories of place in environmental anthropology, I found that national parks can be seen as historically racialized spaces which affect people of color’s interpretation of these places and ultimately affects their visitation and employment in parks. I concluded that there is no simple solution to the lack of diversity in national parks, however, there were three key themes that nearly all of my contributors found important. First, national parks must do a better job understanding how people of color’s experience with national parks is racialized. This will help parks be more informed and engage more effectively with these communities. Second, national parks, especially urban national parks, have the opportunity to adapt and change what experiences people can have in parks to better meet the needs and desires of a wider range of people. Third and finally, employing diverse rangers and staff is a key factor in improving diverse visitation for generations to come.
Cami will be online to field comments on May 8:
Noon-2pm EDT (PST 9am-11am, Africa/Europe: early evening)

Posted in I.S. Symposium, Independent Study.