“nonwhite campers now comprise 26% of all campers — more than double when it was first measured in 2012”
by Kari Paul, MarketWatch
Teshale Nuer, a 25-year-old Afro-Latinx behavioral therapist based in New York City, recently headed into the great outdoors for the first time, joining a group of predominantly white friends in tents in Maryland. For Nuer, who was initially resistant to joining, it was one of the most foreign experiences in recent memory.
“Growing up as a person of color, camping just never seemed like an option,” Nuer said. “There was a lot of etiquette I didn’t know about. I grew up in the suburbs where people did go camping, but not people who looked like me.”
Camping has been traditionally associated with white Americans — national parks were once segregated and even recently advocates of outdoor leisure activities have asked why America’s national parks are so white. Nuer said there are a number of underlying implications for nonwhite Americans regarding outdoor activities, including the U.S. legacy of racial violence leaving campers uncomfortable around police and state park rangers.
But the activity is increasingly becoming an attractive form of vacation for campers like Nuer, according to a new study from the large national private campground system Kampgrounds of America. It found nonwhite campers now comprise 26% of all campers — more than double when it was first measured in 2012.
The biggest driver of this growth is millennials, said Toby O’Rourke, chief operating officer at KOA, which obviously has a vested interest in people going camping. The age group comprises just 31% of the adult population, yet accounts for 38% of campers — and it’s more diverse: Six in 10 nonwhite campers are millennials compared with 4 in 10 white campers.
“Nature has a PR problem.”
Rue Mapp, founder of OutdoorAfro
“I was surprised by the high enthusiasm for camping in the teenage group,” O’Rourke said. “We are definitely seeing more and more young people coming in. It’s changing the face of camping. It used to be an older, more Caucasian activity and we are seeing it skew younger and a lot more diversity.”
Rue Mapp is the chief executive officer and founder of OutdoorAfro, a nonprofit that “celebrates and inspires African-American connections to nature.” It started as a blog in 2009 and has since grown into a national network in which 20,000 people participate in camping trips and other events across 30 states. She said millennials are seeing the effects of major efforts to show better representation of nonwhite campers in their communities, on social media and in advertising.
“Nature has a PR problem,” she said. “We have not done a good job of letting people know they will be welcome. There is no padlock on any trail, there is no padlock on any campground — but if you don’t know about it, you won’t go. Social media has played a huge role in changing that.”