Arizona's national parks taking steps to appeal to Hispanics
ronkite News Service
Sept. 11, 2007


AStephanie Sanchez
Cronkite News Service

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK - "!Válganme las víboras! (for goodness' snakes)," a brochure warns guests treading among the towering cactuses here. Those visitors often include school groups from Mexico hiking with bilingual rangers. During the summer, the ranger might be a teacher supplied by a Tucson school district with a large percentage of Hispanic students.

As the nation becomes increasingly diverse, Saguaro and other national parks are working to connect with Hispanics.

"We want to make it more comfortable, and we also want to let them know that the park does have a rich Hispanic history," said Bob Love, chief ranger at Saguaro National Park.

The National Park Service has made outreach to diverse groups a key part of the Centennial Initiative leading up to its 100th birthday in 2016, and many parks are taking steps to appeal to Hispanics.

"We obviously want to connect with all Americans," said Kathy Kupper, a National Park Service spokeswoman in Washington.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument has added Spanish subtitles to its visitor-orientation films. Tumacacori National Historical Park, featuring ruins of Spanish colonial missions, uses its "Junior Ranger Day" to invite southern Arizona Hispanic families take part in a scavenger hunt. At Petrified Forest National Park, rangers are learning Spanish.

"We're really working towards communicating with people because that is usually the biggest hurdle," said Lyn Carranza, chief of interpretation at Petrified Forest National Park. "We want to go a little bit deeper than just telling our visitors where the restrooms are."

Simple things can make a difference. Some parks offer movable picnic tables to accommodate families celebrating Easter and Mother's Day.

"A lot of it is understanding how the (Hispanic) families want to use the parks, little things like allowing the picnic tables to be placed together," Carranza said. "Most people really want to use the parks . . . but they are confused about the rules and regulations."

Southeast of Sierra Vista, Coronado National Memorial, which commemorates and interprets the Spanish explorer's expedition, partners with two parks in Sonora to promote awareness among Hispanics on both sides of the border.

"We're looking to find ways to tell the story of Coronado," said Denise Shultz, the park's chief of interpretation. "The whole idea of immigration is what it meant then and what it means now and the fact that it is continuing."

Hispanics, who account for more than a quarter of Arizona's population, represent a vast potential market for national parks. They are nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group, according to the Census Bureau.

The National Park Service doesn't track visitors by race, but recent studies of some parks outside Arizona have found that minorities are underrepresented.

Meanwhile, Arizona's national parks, recreation areas, monuments and historic sites are eager to attract more visitors. Annual visitor counts have declined 21 percent overall since a peak in 1993, with Grand Canyon National Park a notable exception, according to National Park Service data. Saguaro National Park's 620,000 visitors in 2006 represented a 25 percent decline from 1993.

Clint Wall, research manager for the Outdoor Industry Association, a Boulder, Colo.-based trade association for outdoor-recreation businesses, said offering information in Spanish is welcoming to Hispanics, even those who speak English and Spanish. He added that young Hispanics - one in three nationally is under 18 - represent a large source of potential park visitors long-term.

"Obviously, it is really important that they are improving the experience of the parks," Wall said.

At Saguaro National Park, outreach to young Hispanics extends into neighboring Tucson. The park partners with the Sunnyside Unified School District to give a teacher the opportunity to spend the summer as a ranger and take that experience back to the classroom.

The latest ranger is Michael Barr, an art teacher from Sierra Middle School who sketches the Saguaro landscape for his students.

"I translated the environmental issues into a level that kids can understand, through art, and at the same time they're making a connection to the environment," Barr said.