Rue Mapp began chronicling the natural world in 2009 as a blog writer, as a way to telling the story of how she was influenced by nature.
“The blog was an idea to create interest in the outdoors,” said Mapp. “I would go outdoors to different parks, but I really didn’t see that many people that looked like me.”
This was at the start of Facebook, and Mapp found that her posts were starting to get a buzz and create a lot of interest from her friends and different readers who shared her posts.
“I would find out by my readers and friends that they were also outdoors people,” said Mapp. “They were interested in national parks, the outdoors and seeing all that nature had to offer.”
The blog led to Mapp founding Outdoor Afro, a grassroots organization that supports connecting African Americans with outdoor recreational activities.
These activities include camping, fishing, hiking, biking, skiing, hunting and bird watching. Outdoor Afro has now become a national organization with leadership networks in 30 states, including Illinois, Texas, Georgia and Washington D.C.
“We have not only been able to get people outdoors, but we have been able to respond to the needs of the Black community,” continued Mapp. “We need to make sure that leadership and staffing at national and state parks looks like the parks that surround our parks and public lands throughout America. They need to be more diverse and representative of the people who use these lands.”
The support for outdoor activities in the African American Community, can be seen in a recently conducted New California Media National Public Lands study, “America’s Public Lands: How Diverse, How Inclusive” survey, which polled Asian, Latino and African Americans voters about there reactions to national public lands.
Four out of five voters approve of President Obama’s commitment to public lands, according to the poll.
“We found interest in outdoors to be strong among voters of color, with 70 percent participating in outdoor activities commonly offered on public lands,” said Anthony Williams, special projects director for Bendixen & Amandi International, which conducted the poll.
“In addition, 57 percent of voters surveyed have visited national public lands,” said Williams.
The polling comes at a time when the National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial. The poll was commissioned by the New America Media and released in partnership with the Next 100 Coalition, surveying 900 African American, Latino and Asian voters nationwide.
The poll found that if these communities were more engaged by targeted outreach and education measures, communities of color would show a much greater interest in the outdoors and national parks.
The findings run counter to the perception that outdoors lands, nature and national parks are the domain of white people. People of color are very interested in public lands, as Mapp has argued over the past seven years.
“These places are part of our national and cultural heritage, and many Blacks embrace them,” said Mapp.
America is going through dramatic changes demographically. By 2020 half of the youth in America will be people of color, and by 2043, a majority of the residents will be.
Interest in National Parks and the US Forest Service by Blacks and other people of color will only increase in coming years.
“People of color support by large majors more urban parks, more historical and cultural programming, enhanced recruitment and hiring diversity,” said Sandy Close, the Executive Director of the New America Media. “There needs to be increased focus on the contributions of communities of color in the sites protected by the U.S. Congress and the president.”
The polling found that there needs to be improved access and more cultural diverse offerings when it comes to public lands. Four of five voters of color support the creation of new parks and monuments that tell the story of underserved communities.
The Next 100 Coalition is made of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community organizations that advocate for more diversity and inclusion in national park lands. Some of the national park lands include Civil Rights landmarks in Atlanta, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad in Maryland, the San Gabriel Mountains in California, Fort Ord in California and the San Juan Islands in Washington.