View of half dome reflected in the Merced river at YosemiteFor the past two decades, the Washington, D.C.-based City Kids program has been helping at-risk kids from low-income neighborhoods in numerous ways. One such method includes getting inner-city youth off the streets and into the great outdoors in some of our country’s most treasured National Parks.

This initiative is geared towards assisting kids from vulnerable neighborhoods by teaching them wilderness skills and by preparing them for post-high school life. Kids generally start the program around sixth grade, and many will participate in the summer camp and year-round weekend trips all throughout high school.

The program has proven results. High school graduation rates in D.C. are typically around 65%, but the graduation rate for those in the City Kids program are over 95%. Not only do these programs help kids stay in school, but they allow kids spend time in nature — an activity they might not otherwise have an opportunity to explore.

Although the amount of people who camp in a typical year hovers around 40 million, kids from at-risk environments don’t often get the chance to participate, if not for these programs. Kids cite their involvement in the program as a real highlight; it serves as both a great learning experience and a break from the struggles they encounter in daily life.

National Parks have historically had difficulty connecting with the two groups the program serves: kids and minorities. National Park Surveys in the past have shown that only nine percent of visitors are Hispanic, seven percent are African-American, and three percent are Asian.

However, a recent study suggests that people of color may be more interested in the preservation of public land than previously thought. Out of 900 African-American, Asian, and Hispanic voters polled in the study, four out of five voters liked President Obama’s goal of protecting public lands like National Parks. In addition, it was found that 57% of these voters had already visited at least one national park.

It was also noted that these voters expressed a desire for better accessibility to parks, as well as an increased emphasis on culturally diverse activities on public land. The organizations behind the poll, New American Media and the NEXT 100 Coalition, want to urge the government to be more proactive in promoting National Parks to people of color and to create new parks centered around the contributions of minorities.