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America's Great Outdoors Is Not So Great for Everyone

Spring will soon be upon North America, reawakening many people's passion for the outdoors. But for more than a quarter of the U.S. population, hiking through awe-inspiring national parks, fishing in babbling streams, perhaps taking a stab at hiking the American wilderness hold no idyllic appeal. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, only six percent of people who hike, kayak, mountain climb, and so forth, in the United States are African American. Even fewer -- four percent -- are Hispanic.

The reasons seem obvious: Most minorities live in cities, and with fully one quarter of America's blacks and Hispanics living below the poverty line, many cannot easily afford the costs of travel, park fees, and outdoor gear. Whereas many whites fondly return to the family fishing hole each year, far fewer minority children get an early taste of the wild.

And Bunyan Bryant, a black University of Michigan professor who has camped by the shores of rustic Lake Huron for decades, notes that for those blacks who descended from slaves and sharecroppers, and for those Hispanics whose families came from dirt-poor rural surroundings, there is little romantic interest in wild places.

In an effort to change some of these perceptions, outdoor organizations are reaching out to minority populations. Newspapers sponsor summer camps for inner-city kids.

Alan Spears of the National Parks Conservation Association says that goodwill is fine. But there's another reason to add minorities to the ranks of outdoor enthusiasts: Given the enormous costs of fighting the war on terror, budgets of agencies like the National Park Service are taking deep cuts. So America's wild places need all the new, cash-carrying campers, hikers and nature lovers they can get.