Enhancing Visitation Diversity in Saguaro National Park
So many national parks sit within short reach of large, urban populations. Yet, across the country, national park visitation diversity is being surrendered at an alarming rate. Not only is the average national park visitor and employee aging, but according to one survey, they are also decreasingly reflective of the ethnic composition of the country.
On the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz., the Saguaro National Park stands guard over two million iconic saguaro cacti and myriad charismatic carnivores scattered across lush, upland “sky island” landscapes. This is a land few Tucsonans have actually visited, especially the young Latino population that comprises 50% of the city. But efforts are underway to change the human landscape of the national park.
KEEN Effect Grantee Friends of Saguaro National Park (FOSNP) has been dedicated to enhancing both biological and visitor diversity now for over 20 years. FOSNP not only conducts a long-term program tracking carnivores impacted by urbanization, but through the KEEN Effect Grant-supported program “Exploring Sonoran Desert Diversity,” they are also turning Tucson’s urban youth into citizen-scientists and national park visitors.
All public lands need the support of the population young and old. The reality that the Park Service is facing is that visitation has been mostly baby boomers for the last 50 years.
BOB NEWTSON, executive director of FOSNP
In response to the alarming demographics, the National Park Service’s Every Kid in a Park (EKIP) program began issuing free park passes to the country’s 4th graders, yet few students in Tucson have the funds or guidance to get into the park and discover its potential. The KEEN-supported FOSNP program provides transportation and fun citizen-science activities for 500 kids to not only see the park, but learn from it as well. Kids learn how to observe, measure, categorize, identify, and record data. The program also enhances science proficiency by learning how to use the actual tools and equipment, including wildlife cameras and GIS that park scientists use in the field.
The Next Generation Rangers is our best hope to create the next generation of park advocates and supporters.
DIANA RHOADES – Urban Fellow, National Parks Service
The next 50 years from now, who is going to be the folks that are supporting us? […] It’s going to be this next group of kids that we weren’t seeing [before].
ANDY L. FISHER, Public Information Office, Saguaro National Park.
Beyond programs engaging 4th graders, FOSNP runs the Next Generation Rangers program, which mentors high schoolers into careers on public lands. This program is comprised of over 65% women rangers, and 40% belong to underserved communities, including members of the adjacent Tohono O’odham Nation. This is not only setting up a reversal in Park Service employment demographics, but is also driving young women and ethnic minorities into STEM careers, including those jobs with the best views on Earth – an NPS ranger.
Friends of Saguaro National Park is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit fundraising partner of the National Park Service, created to help preserve, protect and enhance the fragile environment and unique cultural heritage of the Sonoran Desert at Saguaro National Park. For more information, visit http://www.friendsofsaguaro.org.
KEEN awards $100,000 per year through the KEEN Effect Grant Program to registered 501(c)3 organizations or global equivalents. To find out more, visit www.keenfootwear.com/grants.