Oprah Visits Yosemite National Park

Oprah Winfrey will feature her visit to Yosemite National Park on her show this Friday and next Monday. Photo via www.oprah.com

In a blast of media exposure that just must rival, if not surpass, Ken Burns' documentary on the national parks, Oprah Winfrey is about to devote two shows to her visit to Yosemite National Park.

The talk show host, who wonders why more African-Americans don't visit national parks, went camping at the invitation of Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson, an African-American who has worked both to preserve the memory of Buffalo Soldiers and to lure more African-Americans to the parks.

On Friday and next Monday Ms. Winfrey will showcase the visit she made to Yosemite earlier this month.

Ranger Johnson, who was featured in Ken Burns National Parks: America's Best Idea, invited Oprah to visit the park several years ago. During her trip to the park the ranger, leading an evening campfire program at the Lower Pines Campground in the Yosemite Valley, told the story of a detachment of Buffalo Soldiers -- African-American Army cavalry troops -- patrolling the Yosemite backcountry on horseback.

The two shows will feature Oprah's visit and activities such as fly-fishing and a mule ride. Oprah also questions why there aren’t more visitors of color in national parks. Ranger Johnson has been working on this issue for a long time.

"All Snoop Dogg has to do is go camping in Yosemite and it would change the world," said Ranger Johnson in a San Francisco Chronicle article last year. "If Oprah Winfrey went on a road trip to the national parks, it would do more than I have done in my whole career."

The ranger was clearly excited by Oprah's visit and called it a seismic event. See his youtube interview.

In a memo published in Outdoor Afro, a blog that strives to reconnect African-Americans with nature, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis said that, "Ms. Winfrey’s visit and the popularity of her show offer the National Park Service an unprecedented opportunity to reach a vast audience of potential first-time visitors and to start a conversation with them."

Oprah's shows will reach more than 30 million viewers and many more on her website, Oprah.Com.

Watch the show on Friday 29, read a review on the Traveler this weekend, and join the conversation.

Comments

As a Yosemite-Mono Lake Paiute I can't wait for the shows and there are going to be two of them.

http://www.indiancountrytoday.com/yourict/105758908.html

Very exciting that both Oprah and Gayle are going to show Yosemite National Park, the ancient homeland of the Paiutes.

Whooopee!! I feel like I've been waiting on this day for 15 years! Ever since Frank and I "discovered" the National Park System on our road trip around the country in 1995, we have been desperate for a celebrity like Oprah (oops! there's nobody like Oprah!) to take an interest and show the American people the incredibly beautiful natural treasures that we own. We even wrote a book about the national parks, "Legacy on the Land," focusing on the contributions of racially diverse Americans to the development of the park system and our country. (www.legacyontheland.com)

who says you have to die to go to heaven? I'm in heaven right now anticipating the millions of people who will fall in love with our national parks as a result of Oprah's shows!

The field is all aflutter about this wonderful opportunity to connect more people to the beauty and benefits of the National Park System. It's high time African American women are seen enjoying outdoor spaces as a model for what is possible for others, and to recall our heritage that has deep, positive connections to natural spaces.

Bravo Oprah! Hope it won't be the last time we see you in a National Park!

Rue Mapp
Founder, Outdoor Afro

I totally agree with Audrey. The national parks provide us an inspiration to connect with America's natural and cultural heritage which all people can benefit from, and to take responsible actions to sustain our mother Earth. And yet, as a woman of color and recent immigrant, I recognized that our parks' visitors and stories don't always reflect our diverse population of our world. I admire Audrey and Frank's work to publicize the needs to make our parks more inclusive to racially diverse Americans, and I am also committed to bringing stories that reflect the connection of people of color with our parks. I am currently working on profiling Native American women activists in America's public land to honor their voices and connection to our national parks and public land.

I hope that celebrity like Oprah can inspire many people to experience our parks, and to be a part of the change to make our parks accessible for all!

I wish I could be as excited as Jon Jarvis. But, being that he lead the way back when the Yosemite National Park Service accepted millions of dollars from Congress to replace the flood campgrounds in 1997, but then didn't do it, clearly pocketing the money while leaving the campgrounds damaged", there's something wrong with the NPS using Lower Rivers campgrounds as the backdrop for Oprah's well meaning photo op’ to promote camping in The Park. What is Jarvis thinking.

Of all places, Lower River Campgrounds, where Jon Jarvis, the new NPS Director, who back then helped to lead the way to reduce the available auto-based family camping in Yosemite Valley to approximately 40% of their former, pre-flood numbers.

It is disingenuous for the Jarvis and the NPS to promote camping, using Yosemite Valley as their model.

Jarvis's excitement is sure to create a many angry, disappointed, and disillusioned people who will try to get campsite reservations in Yosemite Valley, only to find out that it is next to impossible to get one during the summer season, unless you're Oprah I guess.

Sorry Shelton Johnson, but you need to get behind the Yosemite Valley Camper Coalition on this one.

Along with that push for diversity, we must teach new comers to the park system to respect it and to respect nature - my personal experience is that this doesn't always happen.

Oprah wasn't there during the summer, it was September 17-18, after labor day. The reason that the campgrounds weren't rebuilt is because they were in a FLOOD zone. The NPS has learned from past mistakes and is trying to manage the parks to preserve and protect the land for future generations. Allowing people to trample the beauty just because they want to camp no matter what is insane! I don't know why anyone would want to camp there in the summer anyway. It's hot and it's way too crowded.

Boone:
Oprah wasn't there during the summer, it was September 17-18, after labor day. The reason that the campgrounds weren't rebuilt is because they were in a FLOOD zone. The NPS has learned from past mistakes and is trying to manage the parks to preserve and protect the land for future generations. Allowing people to trample the beauty just because they want to camp no matter what is insane! I don't know why anyone would want to camp there in the summer anyway. It's hot and it's way too crowded.
To each his own I suppose. I find the Valley campgrounds to be centrally located and frankly a bargain. One can cook at one's own campsite and bring assorted creature comforts. I knew it was loud in the daytime and a bit crowded, but all the Happy Isles trailhead was only a half-mile walk from my campsite in Upper Pines.

They've talked a lot about replacing the shuttered campgrounds (I sort of agree that the River campgrounds are unlikely to be reopened) but for whatever reason there doesn't seem to be a plan yet. Some of the criticism is that Yosemite and NPS management seems to be more interested in possibly expanding with more expensive lodging at Yosemite Lodge rather than replace some of the lost campsites.

Must agree with the Traveler and other comments supporting restoration of the campsites in Yosemite Valley removed after the 1997 flood. Roughly 60 % of the campsites were removed w/o any public input, just "management discretion". While the campsites were being removed, plans were already drawn up to upgrade Yosemite Lodge to 500 plus expensive motel rooms, at 200-300 hundred a night, as well as extensive plans to upgrade Curry Village motel rooms comparable to the Lodge. This also by "management discretion" Yosemite, in my view, has done a terrible job with the campgrounds, many reasons for it, but primarily, the local counties (bed taxes) and the park (franchise fees) make a great deal of money on the hotels/motels/cabins, but little on the campgrounds. In fact, Mariposa County derives 60% of their discretionary budget income from the bed taxes. Hate to sound a little negative about this, but it needs to be said. In fact there has been 12 years of litigation over the Yosemite post flood recovery planning effort and the parks failure to complete a Merced Wild and Scenic River before they decided to move ahead with all the construction. The park was 7 years behind in this effort. A young climber, Mr. Greg Adair, in 1998, wrote a wonderful little brochure titled "Campsites not Hotels" for Yosemite and was part of the environmental team that filed suit against the NPS in federal court. We are now 13 years into the litigation and the Merced River Plan is still years away from completion. Perhaps that is a good thing. The hotel/motel /cabins already out number the campsites in Yosemite Valley by 3 to 1. In my own view, this is a sad commentary on the environmental planning ethic for Yosemite National Park.

It's worth an applause to Yosemite Ranger Shelton Johnson and Oprah for what they are doing. My sister and I have started a business that focuses primarily on introducing the outdoors (i.e., camping, fishing, hiking) to those that lack participation in outdoor activity, primarily targeting African Americans and Hispanics. We're hoping to add a little of what Ranger Johnson and Oprah are aiming to do into our local communities as well. Way to go and it's great to read all the comments about others' joys and experiences of the outdoors.

I was able to watch a little of Oprah's show today and found it extremely disappointing. (It was the first time I've ever tuned in to one of her shows.)

What I found was two minutes of Oprah mixing some sort of vodka booze followed by five minutes of commercials. She was haunting a campground instead of enjoying the park's wonders. (Maybe she had done that earlier and I missed it.)

But then, given our national fascination with celebrities and our extremely low standards of TV programming, maybe this is best we can expect.

Velma Melmac lives on!

I had the chance to see the Oprah show, it was a delight. Oprah and her very nice friend did a great service for America today, they went on a camping trip to an iconic National Park, and did it with fun and good humor. Yes, it is hard work to go camping, but you get the hang of it after awhile, provided of course that you can find a campsite in our more popular parks. Ranger Sheldon Johnson was excellent, he is an exceptional Park Ranger. I want to support Tarsha Scovens comment, I reacted to Oprah's show much as she has. Just a few years ago I was invited to testify at a Congressional Parks Sub-Committee hearing held in Yosemite on the very issue of camping and weather to restore the sites or not. Most of the testimony revolved around contracting out the campgrounds, those few citizens that wanted to speak on behalf of the camping community were last on the list and were pretty much cut-off. But what struck me the most was all there congressmen in attendance, spent most of the three days they were there, at the Ahwahnee Hotel, $400.00 a night. To Oprah's everlasting credit, she went out in the campground, experienced the thundershowers, mosquitos, etc. I have now become a fan of hers and will be watching Wednesday.

Oprah could have done more good by visiting a park that is closer to home - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Yosemite is a great place, but if you want to encourage people to visit their national parks, don't pick one that is remote and hard to get to as your example. Indiana Dunes is in view of Chicago, it's free, you can get there on public transportation, and it is visited by lots of African Americans!

Anonymous:
Oprah could have done more good by visiting a park that is closer to home - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Yosemite is a great place, but if you want to encourage people to visit their national parks, don't pick one that is remote and hard to get to as your example. Indiana Dunes is in view of Chicago, it's free, you can get there on public transportation, and it is visited by lots of African Americans!
Oprah Winfrey made this trip after a direct invitation from Yosemite park ranger Shelton Johnson.

I guess Everypark USA is either close to or remote from SOMEbody.

Rick B:
I guess Everypark USA is either close to or remote from SOMEbody.
Sure. Yosemite is a pretty short trip from large population centers in Modesto and Fresno.

I went to Yosemite this past summer for the first time. I made my reservation one week before going, so it is not always impossible to score a campsite. BTW, I went in July.

What a stunning revelation, and hopefully a powerful movement in the future.

Ms. Winfrey’s admission was so moving, I had to write about it quite at length:
How Divided We Remain

Props to Ranger Johnson for all his work.

I have it on good authority that both the staff of Indiana Dunes, as well as a few of their partner organizations, have invited Oprah on many occasions over the past 10 years.