Encouraging minorities to use state parks

    When a Pennsylvania survey revealed that the vast majority of state park visitors are white, conservation officials started looking for ways to introduce more minority kids to outdoor adventure.

    When a Pennsylvania survey revealed that the vast majority of state park visitors are white, conservation officials started looking for ways to introduce more minority kids to outdoor adventure.

    Just three percent of Pennsylvania state park visitors are black, Hispanic or Asian, according to a recent survey from the Department of Natural Resources.

    Felicia Davis works for the non-profit group Venture Outdoors and leads family activities for residents who live near Pittsburgh.

    She says urban moms are usually excited to introduce their kids to hiking or other outdoor adventures, but often don’t have easy access to those activities. Davis says geocaching is one of the most popular.

    Davis: It’s a scavenger hunt using a handheld GPS unit. We do it at different parks throughout the city. In one we had to identify trees, another you had to find a flag or a container filled with candy.

    Pennsylvania’s conservation department has expanded its youth-adventure day camps. In July, 12 to 15 year-olds from Philadelphia visited Tyler State Park.

    Dara Deroiste is with the state Department of Natural Resources. He joined Philadelphia teens for fishing last year.

    He says, at camp, city kids often realize that caring for the environment is everyone’s responsibility, not just a job for anglers or hunters, or others who spend lots of recreation time outside.

    At camp, Deroiste also did some early scouting for the state. He told campers if they love the sciences and nature – and go to college — there are many opportunities to make a living outdoors.

    Deroiste leads diversity hiring efforts at the conservation department and says he realized that it would be easier to hire minorities for nature jobs, if they already enjoy nature.

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