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NC Group Promotes Diversity Among Nature Lovers

Spending time outdoors is one way to combat the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension, all of which are higher for African Americans. (Pathways to Parks)
Spending time outdoors is one way to combat the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension, all of which are higher for African Americans. (Pathways to Parks)
January 14, 2019

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Western North Carolina's rich public lands are open to all, and a new group has decided to go the extra mile to encourage more people of color to enjoy them.

Elsea Brown, director of Blue Ridge Forever campaign, says the Pathways to Parks group, based in Asheville, was formed with a focus on inclusion.

"There's sort of an image, there's a particular kind of person that is well represented,” she states. “Our population is becoming more and more mixed race, and more and more people of color.

“It's really important that we really step it up as environmental organizations and engage those people."

The National Park Service says Great Smoky Mountains National Park had more than 16 million visitors last year – and 97 percent self-identified as white.

Pathways to Parks schedules monthly hikes and is planning some national park visits. It welcomes new members as well as people who can lead outdoor excursions.

Tanya Marie Cummings, a charter member of Pathways to Parks, helped form the organization after attending a friend's lecture about outdoor exercise at UNC Asheville. The 66-year-old says those who attended realized the need for outreach to people of color.

"People of color have certain types of diseases, which include hypertension and diabetes, and quite often, a lot of physicians are now prescribing nature as a way to reduce some of these diseases," she relates.

Researchers who study cardiovascular health say exercise is one way to keep hypertension at bay.

A survey of nearly 3,000 Americans and Canadians found that among the 1 million people who went camping for the first time in 2016, nearly one in five was black and 11 percent were Latino. That doubles the rate for those groups in 2014.

Brown says it's proof that the U.S. is slowly making progress in breaking stereotypes for outdoor activities.

"There's definitely been a history where the powers that be have systemically sort of broken the connection that people have with land,” she states. “And I think overcoming that is going to be a long process, but it starts with small steps. It starts with finding community, and it starts with making those everyday connections."

To learn more about the Pathways to Parks group, email pathwaystoparks@yahoo.com.

Antionette Kerr, Public News Service - NC