Engaging Minority Communities in Local National Park Units through Culturally Competent Focus Groups


  • Molly M. Ryan RSG
  • Steven R. Lawson RSG
  • Abigail M. Larkin RSG
  • Steven J. Roberts National Park Service
  • David Pettebone National Park Service




Focus groups, Latinx/Hispanic, minority communities, national parks, recreation


The racial and ethnic profile of the United States population is shifting rapidly; in particular, the Latinx/Hispanic population is expected to increase by 115% between 2014 and 2060 (Colby & Ortman, 2014). Racial and ethnic minorities have traditionally been underrepresented and underserved in outdoor recreation areas. The National Park Service (NPS) has recently recognized the importance of engaging a diverse range of visitors to ensure that national park units are welcoming places that are available and relevant to all. While leisure scholars have examined minority preferences and barriers to visiting outdoor recreation areas, few have focused on gathering feedback from a minority community about their relationship with a local, culturally significant national park. Furthermore, despite evidence that focus groups are an effective method for engaging minority populations, this field includes little information on how to design and conduct focus groups in a manner that builds rapport with minority communities. The dual focus of this paper contributes to these crucial gaps in the outdoor recreation field. First, it explores the perceptions and understandings of the Latinx/Hispanic community regarding their connection and relationship to Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (CASA). Second, it gives more specific attention to how culturally competent focus groups can be used to engage and gather feedback from Latinx/ Hispanic individuals. Participants shared feedback that CASA’s role in the Latinx/ Hispanic community is limited by perceived exclusion and a lack of outreach from the park, contributing to a lack of knowledge and lack of connection with the Latinx/ Hispanic community. Suggestions for improvement included increased representation and engagement at the park, as well as increased outreach and a presence in the community through partnership with organizations, including schools. Throughout the study, key methodological strategies were implemented with a focus on cultural competence, including a combination of flyer and snowball recruitment methods, coordination with respected Latinx/Hispanic community members, and partnership with a local, bilingual Latinx/Hispanic facilitator. As a result, the project fostered respeto (respect), confianza (support and trust), simpatia (positive, respectful interaction), and personalismo (personal engagement) between participants and researchers, ultimately ensuring that participants felt comfortable sharing their impressions of CASA. In order to welcome everyone in our growing and diversifying nation, national park managers should consider using focus groups to gather feedback from their local minority communities. By incorporating elements of cultural competence through focus group design, recruitment and retention, and conduct, and by making genuine attempts to incorporate community representation into park planning and decision-making, park managers can better engage and build long-term relationships with underrepresented communities. 

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