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Connecting in terms of the environment and enjoying the outdoors is another challenge. Bay Area African American outdoor blogger Rue Mapp is an advocate for promoting the outdoors in the black community. In a recent blog post called "And Let the Church say Amen — to Nature," she suggests that black churches can be powerful partners in promoting the environmental ethic: "In this work of connecting more people to nature, I find myself in many rooms, advisory meetings, and email threads with the discussion of relevancy of the outdoors for African Americans (and other less represented populations).... How can we connect the outdoors to more audiences people ask. With 87% of African Americans who associate themselves with a church...the church must play a key part in our planning and partnerships."
That certainly echos the religious connections of Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others who were leading early advocates of wild lands (and parks) as spiritual zones that connected one with the sacred. Said Muir: "No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself." In essence, nature is the best church of all.
The awareness of the wilderness' "white problem" is known, not just at the policy levels of the National Park Service, but also at the retail level. Seattle's REI has hired Laura Swapp to help the company remain relevant in a more diverse world, both with employees and customers. "Our challenge is not that there’s not a younger, more racially diverse market, it’s that they're not necessarily gravitating toward the brands of the outdoor industry," she told blogger Mapp. "So now we are thinking of an expanded definition of the outdoors — meeting people where they are." That's a different mission than the original co-op for outfitting Northwest climbers and hikers.
With large demographic changes ahead, wilderness and heritage stewards will have to find a way of keeping these treasures relevant to the general population in order to have the support they'll need for survival. The strongest advocates for parks come from the people who use them. Nowadays, being loved mostly by white people with white hair is not a long-term survival strategy.
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