By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
“For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.” So reads the inscription over the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park; the phrase comes from legislation that established the park in 1872. “The question of which people these words refer to has long been debated,” writes James Edward Mills in our story about efforts to make America’s national parks more inclusive.
“We weren’t always ‘the People,’” says National Park Service ranger Shelton Johnson, a Black American who began his career at Yellowstone in 1987. “Women weren’t always ‘the People.’ Certainly, African Americans and Native Americans didn’t have full rights as citizens.”
As Mills reports, the policies of Jim Crow segregation were well established when the National Park Service was founded on August 25, 1916. Then, Black travelers to public sites might come across signs that read “For Whites Only.” In 1945, an official bulletin mandated desegregation in all national parks, but it took years. “Although Black Americans represent 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, a 2018 report ... indicates that we make up less than 2 percent of national park visitors,” writes Mills. ”There is a perception among Black people that they don’t belong outdoors.” (Pictured, members of the first all-Black team of climbers attempting to scale Alaska’s Denali in 2013).
Many Black travelers remain cautious to embrace what Wallace Stegner called ”the best idea we ever had.” Part of this caution might be related to the perceived risks of traveling through areas surrounding national parks. On my drive last weekend to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail in western North Carolina, I counted at least five Confederate flags.
In recent years, the National Park Service has made concerted efforts to correct racial bias and injustice. One of its tools is a January 2017 memorandum called “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in Our National Parks, National Forests, and Other Public Lands and Waters,” issued by President Barack Obama. The document seeks to diversify the narratives of our public lands, advocates for including diverse voices in the decision-making process for new public lands, and recommends increasing outreach to diverse communities.
Grassroots efforts are gaining traction. “Organizations that support and encourage people of color to venture safely into the outdoors are flourishing on social media,” notes Mills (pictured below). Ultimately the push to get outdoors is about getting away from everything but nature, and in this direction Mills points to some excellent guides: “My own appreciation for the national parks only deepened when I learned the stories of the Black men and women in our history who made these incredible places possible.”
Please check out Mills’ story and do your part to make our parklands—and their surrounding areas—welcoming to all people.
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Today in a minute
Cash up front: For Americans looking to travel abroad, pickings look slim. No Europe, no Canada. However, there's Jamaica, several states in Mexico, Belize in August, and a few places with stringent restrictions. Cambodia requires a $3,000 U.S. deposit to cover COVID-19 testing, isolation, and healthcare, Johanna Read writes for Nat Geo. The Cambodia deposit also includes $1,500 for funeral costs.
Gen Z travel: Good deals BUT high cleanliness standards. Camping and ”glamping.” In short, travel by the newest adults will change long after the pandemic ends, with an emphasis on environments safe for older generations as well, USA Today reports. ”There’s a certain amount of self-reliance that is within these younger generations, that they do have to take care of themselves because they feel like the adults have let them down,” says Ann Fishman, a marketing expert who specializes in generational targeting,
A ‘backyard’ trip: For years, writer Jacqueline Kehoe preferred to travel to California, Colorado, and Utah to spend time in the “wild” outdoors, but the pandemic prompted her to discover her neglected Wisconsin. “Life seemed sure to be smaller and stagnant, like a yearlong winter without the snow or ice,” Kehoe wrote for Nat Geo. Instead, she found surprisingly sweeping views and a 1,200-mile hiking network known as the Ice Age Trail.
Can’t stop looking ... at these panoramic views of Everest, from its base camp to the Miracle Highway to its 29,035-foot summit. Photographer Renan Ozturk was part of a team searching for clues from a fatal 1924 climb, as detailed in our latest magazine. Subscribers can view the ragged, challenging, majestic terrain here.
Your Instagram photo of the day
A floating saucer: A man pulls his boat ashore after crossing the river in India’s Karnataka state. Photographer Joshua Cogan notes that in the region there is a tradition of weaving large basket-like boats from the available reeds to cross calm waters of the many rivers.
Subscriber exclusive: Take a look at Asia’s vital rivers
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Overheard at Nat Geo
Not just any tree: Where is the southernmost tree in the world? That's the quest that led Nat Geo’s Craig Welch through forbidding weather in a wooden boat past the spot where scores of sailors have perished at the tip of South America. In today’s episode of Overheard, our podcast, Welch confesses: ”I tried to trust people, but I’m also screaming in my head, ’Really? Is this really a good idea?’”
Related: Here are photographs of 19 iconic trees from around the world
The big takeaway
What’s old is new: Worn for centuries by Ukrainian girls and young women to symbolize purity and fertility—and a mainstay at festivals and weddings—wreaths known as vinoks are believed to have pagan origins that predate the introduction of Christianity to the Eastern Slavic world in the 10th century. Today, however, they are part of a resurgence of traditional culture that Ukrainians are embracing in daily life—modernized with both a proud history and a bright future in mind, Nat Geo’s Eve Conant writes. Pictured above, two members of the Polish-Ukrainian band DAGADANA wear flower crowns styled by artist Dominika Dyka.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
'A different world’: Nat Geo’s Rachel Brown moved 2,500 miles across the country in the middle of a pandemic and protests. She saw fires in many places. She also saw: A masked woman guiding her masked, elderly mother through a rest stop, who thanked her for wearing a mask. A Confederate flag. Cars with handmade Black Lives Matter signs taped to their windows. “The road became less a road and more a string of visions: buzzards bobbing in the ditch like bathers; a deer flicking her white tail; sunlight texturing the trees in a deep brocade,” Brown writes.
Related: If you must summer road trip, here’s how to do it right