But raising entrance fees could run directly into another priority: the Park Service's desire to attract more minorities. In a story by reporter Frank Clifford in the Nov. 25 Los Angeles Times, National Park Service Director Roger Kennedy said that if parks can't attract a representative cross-section of America, they risk losing taxpayer support for the agency's $1.5 billion annual budget.
Missing from the parks' almost 300 million annual visitors are Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. A Park Service survey showed that minorities make up 7 percent of all visitors although they are 25 percent of all Americans.
Even the 93 percent of visitors who are Anglo are not representative. Half had household incomes of $40,000 or more a year. Many of the poorer visitors are local people, rather than Americans coming from East and West coasts to remote places such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Glacier.
Gary Machlis, a Park Service sociologist reporting on a survey of 20,000 visitors at 60 parks, said, "If it weren't for a handful of urban parks, the national park system would be white and elitist."
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