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Involving a More Diverse Community in Arkansas National Parks

Civil rights and environmental groups want to encourage more visits to state parks by minorities. (Virginia Carter)
Civil rights and environmental groups want to encourage more visits to state parks by minorities. (Virginia Carter)
May 16, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - As the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service nears, a coalition of civil rights and conservation groups is calling for public lands to be more inclusive.

The coalition has started a petition urging President Obama to issue an executive order to ensure public lands involve a more diverse community.

Maite Arce, president of the Hispanic Access Foundation, says the coalition has the legacy of public lands in mind with this petition.

"Our work here as a coalition is to challenge this president," says Arce. "And our next president, to really embrace a vision for the next century of conservation that focuses on the importance of national parks and public lands for all Americans, with emphasis on 'all.'"

She says that includes a more diverse workforce at the parks, and more protections for sacred places on public lands.

Arkansas has seven national parks including Hot Springs National Park, Clinton Birthplace National Historic Site, Central High School National Historic Site in Little Rock, which is a civil rights landmark, and Buffalo National River, which was designated as America's first National River in 1972.

Arce says a diverse workforce would allow the public to hear from different voices, a key to making public lands more inclusive.

"There's always been for many years a discussion about the difficulty in reaching diverse communities," she says. "But without those individuals working on these lands and for our parks, it's really going to be difficult to develop programming that reaches and engages different populations."

Shantha Ready Alonso, executive director for Creation Justice Ministries, an environmental justice group that represents major Christian denominations. She thinks the protection of sacred areas would enhance cultural awareness and understanding.

"Right now, too many places where there are petroglyphs, or we know that there are graves, are being ravaged and disturbed because they're under-protected and under-recognized," she says. "We would like to see more reverence for those types of places."

The petition is online along with policy recommendations at change.org.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - AR