Take a stroll through Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona, and you can delight in a wide array of animals and vegetation, including Sonoran scrub oak, desert agave and prickly pear cactus to name a few. However, if you pay close attention to your fellow park visitors, you’ll likely be hard-pressed to see the same degree of diversity in people hiking the trails. The park, like many others throughout the country, is facing a diversity challenge, one that is creating a divide between the services it provides and the community in which it resides.
From schools to lakes, hotels to doctor offices, hundreds of places throughout the Grand Canyon State bear the Saguaro namesake. But when asked what comes to mind when hearing the name of the Arizona state flower, the national park that quite literally surrounds Tucson is not necessarily some residents’ first answer. Park leaders see this as serious cause for concern. Although largely based on the principle of preservation, those in the park services are recognizing the need to change their outreach and overall approach in an effort to engage culturally and ethnically diverse populations.
As the National Park Service gears up to celebrate its centennial, Director Jon Jarvis is using the organization’s 100th anniversary as an opportunity to put forth a call to action. The 24-page plan, titled “A Call to Action: Preparing for a Second Century of Stewardship and Engagement,” places the need to better represent diverse communities as a top priority. Steps like increased bilingual materials and park signs; better access to and accommodations in the park such as additional family areas, picnic tables, etc.; increased staff diversity; and tailored community education will support this national initiative, and particularly the effort in Tucson.
Attracting visitors of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds isn’t the NPS’s only hurdle to overcome. Our nation’s parks are not seeing the numbers of millennial visitors they would like. In 2015, the NPS launched Find Your Park, an online campaign to encourage visitors, presumably young and frequent social media users, to share personal stories about their park experiences via online channels. In the same year, President Obama announced the Every Kid in a Park initiative, which provides free park passes to fourth graders and their families.
Lindsay Walker is Assistant Director of Development of Health Initiatives at the ASU Foundation for a New American University. Lindsay previously served in a fundraising capacity at Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation and Senior Director at CCS, a fundraising and management consulting firm where she partnered with an array of social service, arts, education and faith-based organizations across the sector. Lindsay earned her bachelor’s from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She is also a graduate of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, where she received a Master’s in Public Affairs with distinct emphasis on policy analysis and nonprofit management.