The changing face of camping: record numbers of minorities hit the trails
Camping participation has been increasing over the last 5 years as its base gets more diverse
Teshale Nuer, a 25-year-old Latina 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.