I have to say that I was very disappointed in Oprah, when she and gal pal Gail visited Yosemite National Park in Northern California a few years back, saying she couldn’t see why any black people would spend their money to go and sleep outside on the ground (camping). Their visit was at the personal request of African American Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, a historian at Yosemite who has also worked in other national parks.
His goal was to expose everyone to the beauty and rich history of these natural wonders, but more specifically to attract African Americans and other people of color who are sorely underrepresented visitors to the parks.
Although Oprah travels in a much different way than the rest of us, to say the least, I believe she missed the whole point – that our national parks are amazing treasures that offer a great deal for everyone, regardless of ethnic background.
My mother, sisters and I camped a great deal when we were growing up, visiting many entities of the National Park System. And I have continued to do so into my adult years, visiting Yosemite, Mt. Rainier, Point Reyes National Seashore, Yellowstone, and Virgin Islands National Park, among others.
What those experiences brought and continue to bless me with, whether camping or visiting for the day, is not the static when, where, how and why these landscapes came into being, but also the history of the many pioneers, historians, preservationists and others who have dedicated their time, talent and treasure to safeguard these national treasures for generations to follow. But moreover, for me, these visits offer very intangible yet palpable spiritual and emotional benefits that can only be found out in these most precious of God’s creation.
Several years ago, I interviewed African American Authors Audrey and Frank Peterman, who embarked upon a life-altering, 12,000 mile, 40 state trip around the country visiting national parks from coast to coast. Upon finding that they were the only people of color they saw, they came home, inspired to dedicate their lives to bridging the gap to make national parks and public lands attractive and welcoming to people of color – specifically African American and Latinos. They have written vA Black Couple Reveals Secrets of Our National Parks, Public Land and Environment, Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Inheritance and Tells Why Every American Should Care, and Our True Nature: Finding a Zest for Life in the National Park System, in which they share their experiences with the beauty and wonder of the national parks, as well as why they are so important and play a pivotal role in our African American heritage.
No matter where you live in the country, you will find simply awe-inspiring National Parks, each offering their own distinctive topography, weather, wildlife, visitor opportunities and more.