California state parks' blueprint for a more diverse future

Plans to overhaul park system, appeal to communities of color.

 

From the Anza-Borrego desert to the Big Basin redwoods, California has more than 270 state parks, including beaches, historical sites, lakes and dunes. But the system has long been troubled with funding scandals, threats of closure, and $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance. And like the national park system, as we reported last year in “Parks For All?”, California’s parks suffer from a lack of racial diversity—Latino, Asian, Native and black populations don’t tend to visit or support the parks to nearly the same degree as white residents.

To address all those issues, the Parks Forward independent commission was formed in 2013, and this February, it released a report calling for fundamental changes. Its goals are broad and ambitious: to “expand visitation by younger and more diverse audiences; improve and expand educational and interpretive programs; promote healthy lifestyles; improve protection and restoration of natural and cultural resources; and engage communities and partners.”

Montana de Oro state park
California poppies bloom at Montana de Oro state park. COURTESY FLICKR USER DOCENTJOYCE

To support the Parks Forward recommendations and encourage elected officials to carry out those goals, especially around diversity, a group of experts and community leaders from across California formed the Parks Now coalition. Many of its members represent the minorities that are fast becoming the majority—by 2040 the state’s population will be 52 percent Latino.  

Founding Parks Now member José González, of Latino Outdoors, describes ways to get people of color out and enjoying their state parks: First off, when his group organizes an outing, they tell families it’s their park, not the state’s. “Instead of thinking that people need to be educated, it’s all about engaging people around what they know already,” he adds, describing how one outing included a man who was a landscaper. “Rather than taking the standard naturalist approach,” González says, “I asked him what he saw there, what plants he recognized.” The man told González about many of the shrubs and trees in the park, in the process realizing that “his life experience had value and brings value to a park experience.”

Arthur B. Ripley state park
Joshua Tree forest at Arthur B. Ripley Forest Woodland state park. COURTESY FLICKR USER RENNETT STOWE

One of the biggest obstacles to increasing the diversity of visitors is the location of California’s parks. Many aren’t located near major urban centers and aren’t accessible on public transportation. As the Huffington Post reported: “ ‘African Americans do go out to parks and love nature,’ said (Rue Mapp, the founder and CEO of Outdoor Afro, a social community dedicated to reconnecting African Americans with natural spaces and one another through recreational activities). ‘But they just tend to go close to where they live and work.’ Busy, working families don't want to drive three hours simply to go to a park, or to places where there aren't going to be any African Americans, she noted.”

To that end, one of the report’s recommendations is that by 2025, park visitorship should reflect the state’s “ethnic, age and income diversity” and a state park unit providing a “relevant educational, interpretive, spiritual, cultural, familial, community, and recreational experience” should be no more than a half-mile walk away for every urban dweller.

Another issue for parks, both state and national, is engaging young people – millennials make up almost 30 percent of California’s population. “We’re on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,” says González of his group. “Millennials like to be in parks in a very social way, hanging out with friends, taking selfies. The millennials we engage, some become our ambassadors and volunteers.”

To make parks more appealing to younger audiences, the Parks Forward group created an app called CaliParks. It’s in both Spanish and English, and helps people find nearby parks for specific activities: dog walking, rock climbing, mountain biking, off-highway vehicle riding, picnicking.

As the California parks system begins to carry out the report’s recommendations, Parks Now will be helping to make sure that state officials follow up and take action. “Parks Now is this community voice,” says González. “(Our message is) not just 'parks are cool and we need to save them,' but ‘how does the implementation look if we include new ideas and technology, based on what communities are saying in underrepresented areas like the Central Valley?’ ”

Jodi Peterson is the managing editor of High Country News. Follow her @Peterson_Jodi.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PLANNING & BUILDING DIRECTOR
    Searching for candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Planning, Community Development, or a related field with 7 years' experience in land use planning forums, including...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • NEWS DIRECTOR
    Based in the state capitol, Boise State Public Radio is the premier NPR affiliate in Idaho. With 18 transmitters and translators, it reaches 2/3rds of...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR MOJAVE DESERT LAND TRUST
    Organization Background: The Mojave Desert Land Trust (MDLT) is a non-profit 501(3)(c) organization, founded in 2006. Our mission is to protect the ecosystems of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Ranchers Stewardship Alliance is accepting applications for an Executive Director. This position will provide leadership to RSA, develop a fund raising plan, and effectively communicate...
  • EQUITY IN THE OUTDOORS COORDINATOR
    The Equity in the Outdoors Coordinator will lead community engagement, program implementation and development, and data collection for the Eagle Valley Outdoor Movement (EVOM). EVOM...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a personable individual who is passionate about conservation to join our Sandpoint Field Office. The Community Engagement Assistant will...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION INTERN/ASSISTANT
    Actively introduce students to Experiential Education, Outdoor Recreation, and Sustainability while engaging and challenging them to learn and participate in these diverse opportunities. Room, board,...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL INVESTIGATIVE MEDIA SERVICES
    In-depth investigations of polluters, lobbyists, regulators, elected officials and others focused on environmentally damaging projects in the U.S. and internationally. We specialize in mining projects,...
  • UNDEVELOPED 40 ACRES - SOUTHWEST COLORADO
    in beautiful Montezuma County.
  • TRUCK DRIVER
    Class A & B drivers, pass all DOT requirements and clean driving record
  • MARIA'S BOOKSHOP FOR SALE
    - Thriving Indie bookstore in the heart of Durango, Colorado. General bookstore with 34-year history as a community hub for Southwest region of CO. 1800...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details: