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Attracting minorities to national parks

As nation becomes more diverse, park service tries to bring blacks andHispanics to Old Faithful and El Capitan.

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Part of Laura Loomis's job is to sit in her Washington office and ponder the future of America's national parks. Inevitably, her musings always lead her back to one vital question.

Will 21st-century Congresses, filled with constituents who are increasingly urban and non-Caucasian, look upon national parks as essential investments or antiquated relics?

Within the next three decades, demographers say, white Americans raised on the idea of spending summer vacations in national parks will give way to a new majority of Asians, Hispanics, and African-Americans. This emerging plurality may not possess the same affinity for exploring crown-jewel nature preserves like the Grand Canyon or historical sites that largely celebrate the feats of white males.

True, these changes are far off, but many analysts such as Ms. Loomis say the National Park Service must begin the process of including minorities in America's national heritage or risk becoming irrelevant to future generations.

"We in this country have an obligation to make everyone feel that parks and cultural landmarks are part of their birthright," Loomis says. "Some regions of the country, like California, have been ahead of the curve, but in other places, progress in promoting cultural diversity has been slow."

Building a constituency for parks among urban dwellers who have no such tradition is the greatest challenge facing the Park Service, says Robert Stanton, the agency's first African-American director, appointed by President Clinton. Mr. Stanton plans to focus on three priorities:

*Adding more parks and cultural sites to reflect a wider range of ethnic interests.

*Expanding diversity in the work force. The Park Service has been accused of being "lily white" and for years was slow to integrate. The agency has set a goal of increasing the number of minority jobs on its payroll. It also has established cooperative arrangements, such as recruiting native American guides on Indian reservations.


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