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Closing State Parks Could Have Domino Effect on Economy

New America Media, Q&A, Vivian Po Posted: Jun 30, 2009

Californias budget crisis is putting state parks at risk just as summer and park season kicks off. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed closing 80 percent of the states parks. But a proposal to increase vehicle license fees could generate revenue to keep them open and provide free day use for Californians. Nina Roberts, an associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism at San Francisco State University, talked to NAM writer Vivian Po about the importance of parks especially in an economic downturn and the need to attract a wider and diverse population of park-goers.

In May, Gov. Schwarzenegger suggested eliminating the General Fund support for the state park system, which could mean closing 220 of the 279 state parks. What are some of the impacts of this?

Nora Roberts
It can be pretty extraordinary. First of all, park employees will be laid off and there will be cuts to parks law enforcement, maintenance and education services. Moreover, there will be domino effects on the local economy. When people visit the parks, not only will they pay the park fee, which generates revenue, they will also spend money on local businesses, such as restaurants and sportswear stores for food and equipment. In terms of transportation, some parks are quite remote, so local gas stations rely on the business from park visitors. Imagine if 80 percent of the parks are closed. No one will come and businesses will suffer.

Second, parks are important in maintaining peoples mental and physical health. Studies showed that after Sept. 11, there was an increase in the number of people visiting the parks. Connecting to the natural world will actually reduce the stress people have during the economic recession. For many, parks provide a sense of place where people can become mentally sharp to make decisions. Of course, on the physical side, people can walk and exercise in the park.

What is your view on the recent proposal to increase the vehicle registration fee?

People may feel it is unfair at first, but the mandated fee can bring a positive mental shift. Individuals will become motivated to learn more about their parks because they have paid for its services. As a result, they will make an effort to understand the importance of park preservation and historical significance. The fee will also encourage people to actually visit the parks. Due to the fact that California is more diverse than other states, there will likely be an increase in ethnic representation in the visitor population.

What are the demographics of visitors to national parks?

Ethnic minority visitors continue to be underrepresented in this countrys national parks.
According to the most comprehensive survey of national park visitation to date, conducted in 2000, 35 percent of white Americans had visited a national park within the previous two years. Among Latinos surveyed, the figure was 27 percent, and among African Americans, only 14 percent had visited. However, an updated comprehensive survey of the American public should be released by the end of 2009 or early 2010 by the National Park Service. It will provide us with the most current information on who is visiting the national parks.

Have the demographics changed over the last decade?

Positively. Roughly speaking, there has been a modest increase in the ethnic diversity by approximate 2 to 5 percent.

Why is it so important for more people to visit the parks?

When people visit the parks, they actually see the natural world and realize how important it is to continue to protect the land. As a result, strong values toward nature and environmental responsibility will be developed and maintained. On the other hand, from the park managements standpoint, park employees can gain different experiences from a diversified visitor population. They can come up with new and creative ways to manage the park and visitors.
What are some constraints preventing people of color from visiting the parks?

Perceived discrimination and fear of not knowing may be reasons why people of color do not visit parks. Some may fear that park rangers will treat them differently and some may be concerned whether they will be welcomed. Many have a general fear of not knowing what will happen or where to go, in addition to safety concerns. Also, there is a lack of people of color visible in the marketing and promotional materials for the parks.

What are some strategies for community engagement?

There are four main strategies. First, utilize opportunities to collaborate with minority businesses and minority-serving institutions, such as creating partnerships with ethnic community organizations and inviting them to attend park events. Second, engage or improve the use of various ethnic media sources in communities of color, such as television, radio, newspapers and newsletters. Third, provide better transportation services, such as shuttle buses, to the more remote parks. In the past few years, Sequoia National Park partnered with a local transportation authority to provide shuttle buses from the city of Visalia. Lastly, providing more employment opportunities for people of color to work within parks more ethnic representation in the workforce.

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