During a family vacation to the Grand Canyon, I purchased a National Park Annual Pass. For one fee, the pass would allow our family to visit all 58 National Parks over the next year. Great deal, I thought.
So much nature for the kids. Surely, in a year’s time, we would be able to see a few parks, especially those in my home state of Texas.
That was in 2001, We didn’t make it to a single National Park that year.
It bothered me that we never used the pass. Not because it was a waste of money. But because we missed the opportunity to see all that nature. I started to think about the Annual Pass. Maybe I wasn’t thinking big enough. Why limit our options to just a few parks? Why not see ALL 58 National Parks in one year? It seemed like an invaluable investment: 365 days of nature; our children home-schooled in the most amazing (outdoor) classrooms imaginable.
And so, approximately 10 years later, we began our journey. From 2010 to 2011, my three kids and I took a year-long trip across this country, visiting every national park in the continental US. Because our original plan was to visit every national park in the continental US, eight national parks in Alaska, two in Hawaii and the National Park of the American Samoa for a total of 58 parks, we entitled our journey “Discovering Americas 58”.
For the majority of the trip, we resided in an RV and homeschooled the children. We followed a plan but typically traveled to our next destination based on the park that was closest to the park we were currently visiting. We tried to stay away from extreme weather. For example, we made sure we weren’t in the north during the winter.
To be completely honest, the kids didn’t always enjoy being on a journey with their dad in an RV for a year. During our trip my oldest son, Anthony II was 14, the middle child, Justice was 12 and my daughter Kendall was 10. Anthony II missed his friends back home and wasn’t thrilled when we had to travel long distances between some national parks. But when the kids were physically inside the national parks, they had a great time. They climbed, got in the water, ran through sand, hiked and just enjoyed themselves in nature.
During our journey, we traveled from Maine to Florida, and from California to Washington and every state in between. We saw many so many impressive sights that this country has to offer.
The alligators and the birds in Everglades National Park in Florida were amazing. Arches National Park in Utah has many truly special sights. And we visited iconic places like Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming where my kids were too close to the Bison and way too close to the black bear. Many of the places we visited were spectacular in their beauty. To truly appreciate what any of the national parks have to offer, you have to visit them for yourself.
In the early part of our journey, we visited Washington, D.C. and spoke with Mickey Fern who was the Deputy Director of the National Park Service. Mickey told my kids that a journey across this country visiting national parks, meeting various people, and experiencing different cultures along the way, would positively change them as people.
I remember driving back to our home in San Antonio after leaving our final national park on our journey which was Big Bend. As we were driving home, I thought that not only did this trek across the US change my kids, it also changed me in a positive way. I felt so honored to have spent a year with my kids living in very close quarters to one another, experiencing these United States totally differently than any other family. I am so happy to have been with my kids as we flew together to Virgin Islands National Park, or looked up at the dark night sky at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota and saw satellites crossing the sky. We were amazed to go snowshoeing during the first week of July at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.
Camping together and preparing meals as a family were only a small sample of a true quality of life and quality time with family. The hikes are so memorable. My appreciation of the time with my children is priceless. During our trip, we learned from the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis, that very few minorities and, especially children of color, visit iconic national parks such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Most of us have seen the photo op displaying a group of “inner city youth” engaging in the outdoors with a caption describing how the youth are experiencing “these outdoor spaces for the first time”, or something similar. This reminds me of going to the zoo and seeing the “exotic animal.”
I don’t believe people of color should ever be an oddity in national parks. I believe all kids should have the same opportunity no matter where they come from. Yet, kids who don’t come from certain socioeconomic backgrounds may never have the chance to visit a National Park.
After learning about the lack of youth and minority representation in National Parks and thinking about my firsthand experience seeing the power of nature with my own family, I decided to create an organization to get youth and minorities more involved in national parks and the outdoors. I decided to call the organization, Discovering Americas 58. Our mission is to engage under-represented youth, introducing them to nature, the outdoors, the environment and, of course, national parks. We teach values such as leadership and “leave no trace.”
Earlier this year, I traveled to Pasadena, California to work with Outward Bound Adventures (OBA) to learn how they do what they do. OBA has over 50 years of experience. Their track record has been exceptionally successful in getting underserved youth into the outdoors. Additionally, a high percentage of OBA’s instructors are people of color. The time I spent in California was transformative for my organization.
We now have a profound knowledge and a solid foundation to get youth into the outdoors. This summer, Discovering Americas 58 partnered with Padre Island National Seashore (PAIS) on a pilot program to bring under-represented youth to the park. Over the course of the summer, we took groups of 4th to 6th graders from the San Antonio, TX area to the park to complete a service project on educating the public about PAIS, which is the largest barrier island in the world. PAIS is also home to 5 of the 7 different species of sea turtles.
I am very happy to collaborate with groups like OBA and I am thrilled to be taking underrepresented youth to Padre Island National Seashore. Sadly, if our organization was not there to take them, these kids would likely never have the opportunity to visit places like Padre Island National Seashore. We are attempting to do our part in getting youth outdoors. This task is just slow and meticulous.
In 2016, I am concerned about the status of America’s National Parks, give the under-representation of youth and minorities. Typically, if you go to any of the iconic national parks, the demographic you will see are white Americans between the ages of 30 and 60. There is a percent of white Americans who feel the national parks are theirs. Blacks and other minorities are considered outsiders.
There are those inside the National Park Service who will explain that “it’s complicated” when discussing the low numbers of minorities in their parks. Why is “it complicated” and what can be done? The reason I see it as “complicated” is some of the people who are currently the individuals who frequent national parks feel their space has been infringed upon when minorities arrive in larger groups more than 2 or 3 people. Some feel their places of solitude are being invaded. It was complicated getting Jackie Robinson into major league baseball. It shouldn’t be complicated for every American to have access to their national parks.
I am not bitter about the future of the parks visitors. I am frustrated. I am unhappy with the lack of assistance from various organizations who claim they want to see more diversity in the parks. But ask them what they did to implement more minorities visiting places like Yosemite National Park. The demographics in this country are forever changing and if entities like the National Park Service don’t embrace this change, and encourage more minority representation, the parks are in dire trouble.
I look forward to the changes in our National Parks. It would be nice to be a positive force in the inevitable changes. When minorities are the majority in this country, we hope they will be visiting national parks. But if we don’t connect people of color today, why would they have any interest later?
The 100 year anniversary of the national park service is here– as is the opportunity to let minorities know that the National Parks were created for all Americans. The National Park Service recently created the program, “Every Kid in a Park”or EKIP, which offers a free park pass to 4th-grade students. I have to credit EKIP as a great program, but it fails to emphasize that minorities should visit these iconic places.
I am always interested in listening to people who have thoughts, direction or assistance in order to get more youth and underserved populations into the outdoors and national parks. Anyone who wants to help, you are welcome to contact me anytime. You can email me at email@example.com.
Obama Says U.S. Needs to Preserve National Parks for Future Generations
Coalition Pushes for Diversity at National Parks
Visit the Country’s 59 National Parks for Free this Month
Don’t Care About National Parks? The Park Service Needs You To
Essays from the New Nature Movement
THE NATURE OF EQUITY: An Interview with Dr. Gail Christopher
WHY I WEAR JORDANS IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A Natural Leader Builds Bridges Between Worlds
RESTORING PEACE: Six Ways Nature in Our Lives Can Reduce the Violence in Our World
WHAT A LEADER LOOKS LIKE
PEACE LIKE A RIVER: There’s a Time for Hyper-vigilance and a Time to Pay a Different Kind of Attention
BALM IN GILEAD: Racism as an Environmental Issue, Nature as a Healing Force
Discovering Americas 58
National Park Service
A National Park Annual Pass is available for $80 and covers the pass owner and three (3) accompanying adults age 16 and older at sites where per person entrance fees are charged. No entry fee charged for children 15 and under. Senior citizens (or U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over) can purchase the Annual Pass for $10. More info from the NPS site here.
Photo Credits: Anthony Beverley
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