Extending a Hand

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By Stephanie Sanchez

The landscape at Saguaro National Park near Tucson features towering saguaros and plants and animals native to the Sonoran Desert. The park is taking steps to attract more Hispanics by offering Spanish-language tours, and providing brochures in Spanish. PHOTO: Cronkite News Service Photo/Stephanie Sanchez

“¡Válganme las víboras! (For goodness’ snakes!),” a brochure warns guests treading among the towering cactuses in Saguaro National Park. 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 student population of Hispanics.

As the nation becomes increasingly diverse, Saguaro and other national parks are taking steps 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,” says 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 already are taking steps to appeal to Hispanics.

“We obviously want to connect with all Americans,” says 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 to 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,” says 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 moveable picnic tables to accommodate extended families.

“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 says. “Most people really want to use the parks and they care about the parks, but they are confused about the rules and regulations.”

Southeast of Sierra Vista Coronado National Memorial partners from two Sonoran parks promote awareness among Hispanics on both sides of the border.

“We’re looking to find ways to tell the story of Coronado,” says 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 U.S. 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 of the Outdoor Industry Association, a Boulder, Colo.-based trade association for outdoor recreation businesses, says park information in Spanish is welcoming to Hispanics. He adds that young Hispanics – one in three nationally is younger than 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 says.

Here’s a quick look at what some other national parks in Arizona are doing to better appeal to Hispanics:

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument: Spanish subtitles for visitor orientation films.
Coronado National Memorial: Movable picnic tables to accommodate large-family functions and partnership with two parks in Sonora, Mexico.
Petrified Forest National Park: Spanish lessons for rangers.
Tumacacori National Historical Park: “Junior Ranger Day” promoted to Hispanic families.

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