Black to Nature

Bill Gwaltney wants to see more people like him at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Wilson is indebted to Gwaltney for the help he's provided the mountain club, which now has more than 175 members. But most of all, Wilson praises Gwaltney for teaching minority kids that the parks belong to them.


Compared to the camping trips Gwaltney went on with his Boy Scout troop, roughing it at Rocky Mountain National Park is like staying at a five-star hotel. The scouts didn't have portable gas stoves and freeze-dried snacks. Instead of being shielded from the elements by pop-up campers, they pitched tents purchased from Army surplus stores. And they didn't have battery-operated lanterns to see by when they were rubbing sticks together to start campfires.

Negotiating the white water: Inner-city kids get out of town through the James P. Beckwourth Outdoor Education Center.
Negotiating the white water: Inner-city kids get out of town through the James P. Beckwourth Outdoor Education Center.
Negotiating the white water: Inner-city kids get out of town through the James P. Beckwourth Outdoor Education Center.
photo courtesy of James P. Beckwourth Outdoor Educ
Negotiating the white water: Inner-city kids get out of town through the James P. Beckwourth Outdoor Education Center.

All of the campsites in Rocky Mountain National Park are full. Trucks stop by to deliver ice and firewood. Instead of an outhouse -- or the woods -- campers use bathrooms with flush toilets and sinks with running water. Recycling bins are a short walk from the campsites.

These modern conveniences are a response to the park's growing number of visitors. Without the many trash cans and bathrooms, things could get a little messy. Parks nationwide are grappling with how to accommodate more people; Yellowstone has so many visitors that most of its annual $30 million budget is going toward hiring more staff and repairing roads and water mains.

"Are we creating a new problem by reaching out to minorities? I don't think so," Gwaltney says. "Participation among minorities in the national parks is so low now that even if it were to double or triple, it would hardly make a ripple in visitation."

Right now, vacation time is limited and the season is fleeting. Families speed past one another on the trails and roads -- all of them in a hurry to see the views while it's still summer. Being at the summit of Trail Ridge Road is like being on top of the world. At more than 12,000 feet, where no office buildings scrape the sky and there are only mountains in every direction, it's easy not to have a serious thought.

Unless Bill Gwaltney's around.

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