Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Shrink to fit.
If Karl Hess has his way, the nation's parks will become less commercial, less crowded and pricier, as visitors are asked to pay the true costs of operating the parks.
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."