When Worlds Collide

November 11th, 2010

The outdoors has been featured prominently in entertainment news lately.

Last week, Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle visited Yosemite on her first-ever camping trip and first-ever trip to a national park.  She was invited by park ranger Shelton Johnson, who has made it a personal goal to increase the number of African-American people visiting the national parks.

The pair embarked on an Oprah-style shopping spree (no spending limit) at a California REI store before they went, stocking up on supplies, and arrived at Yosemite with a stuffed Coleman camper and enough gourmet food (sea bass, anyone?)  to feed the entire campground.   I have to admit it was entertaining TV.  Oprah built a respectable campfire, but then had to wait until after dark for the coals to be ready for cooking; Gayle started her camp slipper on fire; Oprah wore pajamas that matched her sleeping bag (who wears pajamas when they’re camping!?)

Johnson was prominently featured in the segment, and he got to make his case for getting African-Americans to visit the outdoors.  It’s been a goal of his for a long time.   He’s the only black park ranger in Yosemite and he told a newspaper reporter a year ago that he’s trying to increase the number of black Yosemite visitors (less than 1 percent of the total). 

“It’s bigger than just African Americans not visiting national parks,” he said. “It’s a disassociation from the natural world.  I think it is, in part, a memory of the horrible things that were done to us in rural America.”

Oprah is back in one of her homes, but Johnson’s campaign hasn’t stopped. Now, he wants another high-profile visitor: rapper Snoop Dogg.  Johnson and change.org have teamed up to lure Dogg into the park.  “All Snoop Dogg has to do is go camping in Yosemite and it would change the world,” Johnson says.  There’s a petition to Snoop Dog’s PR firm, 5W Public Relations, calling on the rapper to go camping.  Check it out  here.

But wait…that’s not all.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service presented their newest honorary forest ranger with a badge and ranger hat to Betty White.  White, who is 88, said she wanted to be a forest ranger when she was a young girl, but that women weren’t allowed into the agency then.

“Wilderness is harder and harder to find these days on this beautiful planet, and we’re abusing our planet to the point of almost no return,” she said. “In my heart I’ve been a forest ranger all my life, but now I’m official.”

 – Deb Acord

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