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Encouraging More Diversity in the Outdoor Recreation Industry

May 6, 2023
Encouraging More Diversity in the Outdoor Recreation Industry

Despite the huge growth of the outdoor industry throughout the pandemic, non-white people are still not as likely to take part in outdoor activities. Like every other industry across the United States, the outdoor recreation industry could greatly benefit from increased diversity. It falls on us as stewards of the outdoors to encourage, invest in, and cultivate diversity across the industry. This not only means among guests and visitors, but also among our staff. If you’re a leader in the outdoor recreation industry, it falls on you to do your part to make it a safe, welcoming place for people of color - in the same way it has been for white people for hundreds of years. Here is some crucial information that everyone in the industry should be aware of regarding the lack of diversity in the industry, the importance of diversity, the history of exclusion for non-whites, and how to encourage inclusion in the future. 

The Nature Gap

The nature gap describes the phenomenon that people of color are much less likely to choose to participate in outdoor activities. The predominant, underlying reason for this is that there is a long history in the outdoor industry of exclusion and discrimination against people of color. Two primary forces at work that discourage the participation of people of color in the outdoor industry are the history of the public parks system, and modern-day prejudices. The nature gap extends to visitation of national and state parks, public forest areas, hiking trails, and even public parks. All of these spaces tend to be primarily occupied by white people. Part of the reason for this phenomenon is that people of color are three times more likely to not have any access to public spaces in their communities. Other contributing factors are cultural differences, racial discrimination, and socioeconomic status. 

A History of Discrimination

Even at the very beginning of the creation of public parks and outdoor spaces in the United States, there was a lack of inclusion and diversity. The people who developed the public parks system did so for the benefit of white communities, and the natural results of segregation and racism meant that people of color were not allowed in these spaces. In fact, one of the primary reasons for creating public parks in the United States was to promote U.S. nationalism and encourage the white American identity. Additionally, people of color were not allowed to participate in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park System. John Muir, who is one of the creators of the National Park System and a champion of the conservation movement, had a long history of racism. Muir himself said that indigenous people had “no right place in the landscape.” Another prominent figure in the conservation movement was Gifford Pinchot, who was the first head of the U.S. Forest Service. Pinchot also espoused racist ideology and thought that public parks should only be used by Americans of white, Northern European descent.

Distrust and Anxiety Related to Outdoor Activities

Numerous studies and surveys have shown that when people of color are asked how safe, welcome, and included they feel in outdoor spaces, the answer is not at all. Many people of color have voiced anxiety and fears about being alone in the outdoors, and state that they feel they have to go in groups, can’t be in the outdoors alone, and would never consider going to remote, unfamiliar places. Even public parks have historically proven to be places rooted in anxiety for non-white visitors, who fear they will be targeted or singled out in racist attacks. 

Non-White Organizations Contributing to the Protection of Outdoor Spaces

Despite many people of color feeling like they aren’t safe in the outdoors, many of them champion and contribute to causes and organizations that protect the outdoors. There are a great number of organizations created and/or led by non-white people that have the goal of conservation or the promotion of diversity in outdoor spaces. This includes Black Outside, GirlTrek, Outdoor Afro, and Latino Outdoors. Historically, black and non-white people have significantly contributed to the advancement of conservation efforts and the outdoors. Generally, those stories have been erased from the history books in favor of promoting an all-white narrative. 

Making an Effort to Encourage Diversity

While the problems of exclusion and a lack of diversity throughout the outdoor industry can’t be solved overnight, there are steps that everyone in the industry can take to encourage progress:

  • Recognize indigenous histories in public lands – While the initial goal of the conservation movement and the National Parks System was to preserve the beauty of outdoor spaces, public land, and national parks for future generations, its history is much more exclusive than what is typically recounted in memorials and history books. Indigenous groups were forced off of public lands in order to create all-white spaces, and non-whites were barred from participating in public outdoor activities for hundreds of years. One way to combat racism and encourage diversity in the outdoor industry is to tell the story of indigenous and non-white people who occupied the lands now used today. You can also lobby at the local, state, and federal level to create memorials to the non-white landowners who came before. 
  • Create a welcoming, inviting space for all – This should go without saying, but leaders in the outdoor industry should make it a goal to create a welcoming, inviting space for all. This includes being vocal about the fact that the outdoors is a safe space for all, and then following it up by making sure safeguards are in place to protect non-whites and other populations who are marginalized or discriminated against. 
  • Develop policies on diversity and inclusivity – In order to develop these safeguards, you must also develop internal policies on diversity and inclusivity. This includes a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and discrimination at any level. Forming a diversity coalition or committee can create a safe space to brainstorm about how to develop a more inclusive experience for all visitors and staff. 
  • Encourage access for all by lobbying for funding – In order to increase economic accessibility and develop access points for all, you can lobby for funding, apply for grants, or solicit donations to create funds for transportation and entrance for low-income visitors. You can even offer free admission for first-time visitors, or punch-card style discounts for frequent visitors. 
  • Find ways to represent cultural history & diversity – Non-white people are more likely to consider visiting outdoor spaces if they see themselves represented in those spaces. This means that marketing materials and advertising campaigns need to be diversified. Parks and public lands can also be reimagined as gathering spaces for cultural events, festivals, and learning experiences. 
  • Encourage public interaction with the mission – You can also encourage members of the public to amplify your mission and contribute to the cause. Tell members of the community how they can help, and give them a clear call to action. 

Make it Your Goal to Stay Informed About Diversity in the Outdoor Industry  

The only way to increase diversity, encourage inclusivity, and combat the “otherness” existing in the outdoor industry is to make it your goal to stay informed. Continue learning and growing, do your part to help, and encourage others to do the same. One step you can take today is to stay up-to-date on our latest blog posts at Advanced Outdoor Solutions. At Advanced Outdoor Solutions, we research, analyze, and present the latest trends and data in outdoor activities so that you can stay up-to-date on the latest trends and data that impact your business. 

We also offer those in the industry land planning, design, development, and turnkey third-party management solutions throughout Delaware, DC, and SW Florida. To learn more about these services, contact us today at 1-800-579-9796 or contact us online.