Visitor diversity through the recreation manager lens: comparing Forest Service Regions 8 (U.S. South) and 5 (California)
In response to changing demographics and cultural shifts in the U.S. population, the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture has initiated a range of “culturally transforming” management practices and priorities aimed at better reflecting both the current and future U.S. population (USDA 2011). This makeover also calls attention to the various publics served by the Forest Service and questions whether the Agency’s services and programming are reasonably accessible by racial and ethnic minority populations within the U.S. populace. Although a priority for upper level management, the actual implementation of recreation visitor services may be difficult to achieve given competing management demands. The present study is an effort to generate greater understanding of the priority given to visitor diversity by forest managers in two of the Forest Service’s most racially and ethnically diverse regions: the 13 Southern States (not including Puerto Rico) that compose Region 8, and Region 5 (California only). Importantly, we want to understand better what this emphasis on visitor diversity means from the perspective of National Forest recreation managers. We identify management priorities and challenges facing recreation managers in their attempts to connect with (i.e., outreach and/or engage) and understand culturally and ethnically diverse recreationists. Results indicate that managers in both regions consider visitor diversity important, but fiscal constraints and understaffing inhibit more targeted programming. As expected, results indicate more programming aimed at diverse recreation visitors in Region 5 compared to Region 8, although racial, ethnic, and, increasingly, cultural diversity are prevalent in a number of key areas adjacent to National Forest lands in the South.