Public lands should be challenged with equity of access for all

BY MICHAEL J. BEAN AND JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ, OPINION CONTRIBUTORS –

This article was  originally published in The Hill

Public lands should be challenged with equity of access for all

Throughout history, our public lands — including national parks, forests, monuments and other areas – have played an important role as part of America’s identity. The word public is meant to stress the idea of accessibility and connection to all the people of this country.

Unfortunately, these lands have not always been reflective of our country’s demographic and ethnic diversity and there are many communities in the U.S. for whom the term public does not resonate in the same vein.

This disconnect is becoming more apparent as the face of our country continues to change at a rapid pace and its consequences more urgent because the future of our public lands will depend upon public support from ever more diverse communities.

If we are to hold true to the idea that public lands are truly for all Americans, then we must expand what that idea means for the many different cultures and communities that make up America today. We need to explore what the ideas of wilderness, protected spaces, national parks and open spaces mean to diverse communities?

What do they mean to young people living in Compton who face the daily reality of growing up in an economically disadvantaged community? What do they mean to the Mixtec migrant family working the fields of the California Central Valley, or to the Islamic community in Dearborn, Michigan? What do they mean to the Gwich’in people of Alaska and the Lakota of the Dakotas who have ancestral ties to the land? The Gullah Gullah people of the Carolinas? What about the communities of Japanese ancestry in the Northwest and the Tijuana colonias along the US-Mexico border?

There are those that say our public lands are there for anyone that wants to access them. That misses the point. This is not a simple matter of equality of access — it is a challenge with equity of access.

Our public lands are meant both to provide a diversity of open spaces for recreational activities and to preserve and share the cultural heritage and story of this nation. As such, our public lands need to be a tapestry woven of the many strands that represent the diversity of this country. In them we should not only see natural and historical monuments, the grandeur of the outdoors and the history of our nation — we should also clearly see ourselves.

We must expand the diversity of the people who visit and work in America’s national parks, monuments and other public lands to reflect the faces of our nation. We must continue to increase the diversity of the sites protected and stories told to enable the public to connect to their public lands – be it for health, spiritual, economic or cultural benefits.

This is the task before us. We have had Manzanar National Historic Site, Timuacan Ecological & Historic Preserve, Bandelier National Monument, and other such sites. To that we have added places like Cesar Chavez National Monument, Stonewall National Monument and many more.

The opportunity is to expand beyond these, so that no matter if it is in the open spaces of Wyoming or the urban environment of Chicago, communities of all backgrounds see themselves as belonging there and see how the system of public lands is connected to tell the stories of all Americans.

These values of inclusion are shared across party lines and President-elect Donald Trump has expressed his commitment to keeping public lands in public hands and to serving as great stewards of this land. If President-elect Trump and the new members of Congress continue the work of making all people feel welcome in our public lands, the goal of united Americans will be furthered. Together we can make sure that our public lands in the next 100 years enjoy care, protection, and support by an American public that sees itself respected, reflected, and included in them.

Michael J. Bean is Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of the Interior. He is the author of The Evolution of National Wildlife Law, generally considered to be the definitive text on the subject of wildlife conservation law in the United States. José González is the Founder/Director of Latino Outdoors, a Latino-led network of leaders committed to engaging Latinos/as in the outdoors, and connecting families and youth with nature.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


Nancy Verdin – Powerful Latina Voice for Conservation

dsc06552My background is like so many other immigrant stories in this country. My parents struggled to raise and educate four children while adapting to a new language and culture. As a child, I often found myself yearning for a peaceful place – where there didn’t have to be so much conflict and so many rules about how to stay safe.dsc06596

I found that peace in the San Gabriel Mountains, a wild and beautiful place that too many people in Los Angeles take for granted. It’s right there. The mountains rise up from local foothill communities like a beautiful painting. But they are real – and along with our beaches and deserts, we need to protect our forests and streams. Especially now, with a political movement underway to privatize and sell off public lands, it’s important to appreciate these places and defend them.

I was only eight years old when I discovered the magic of the mountains – walking down a forest trail and hearing only the trees and the sound of a stream flowing over the rocks. This was a place where my imagination could run free and my city problems seemed tiny. Now, when I lead a youth group into the mountains, I have that experience all over again through their eyes.

We need to claim our public lands and make sure they remain open to everyone. Any effort you make to protect the land will be like medicine for the mind, body and soul of generations to come.

Nancy Verdin is a Prevention Programs Coordinator at Day One in Pasadena, California. A graduate of UC Irvine, she earned her B.A. in Sociology. Nancy has also worked as a tutor, mentor, academic and behavioral coach with the Americorp organization, City Year. She is a proud graduate of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Leadership Academy, which teaches civic engagement and leadership skills to advocate for healthier local communities and to help build a new generation of stewards for our public lands. A native of Pasadena, CA, Nancy is still involved in her community and advocating for youth.


Wellness Walks 2016: Para el Bienestar de Nuestra Comunidad

This coming weekend, Saturday Nov 12,  marks the end of the Wellness Walks in Marin County for the year. It is another year of a successful round of monthly outings connecting families with the open spaces in their communities in the San Francisco Bay Area–and a feat worth celebrating!

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In the words of coordinator Alicia Cruz, who started the Wellness Walks in 2015, “during a difficult time, these walks saved me” and it was created “out of a sense of service to promote well-being, build community, and to create access for families that otherwise would not be connecting with their nearby parks and open spaces.” They simply started with Alicia wanting to explore the natural spaces in Marin, and sharing that interest, passion, and curiosity with her community.

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CA State Parks noticed and the Wellness Walks institutionalized under a partnership that provided monthly transportation support for a year with funding from the CA State Parks Foundation. Alicia worked with CA State Parks staff to provided guided hikes, nature walks, and other outdoor experiences for families that not only provided physical wellness but a space for cognitive and spiritual wellness, as well as learning about outdoors.

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Since then over 22 outings have taken place with many families visiting their state parks for the first time. For many, the walks provide an opportunity for family bonding, for a space to breathe from the daily stress, and to convene with others. For CA State Parks, it provides an opportunity to deliver on its mission to provide more access for more Californians–and for Alicia, it provides an opportunity to expand on the definition of an outdoor experience while establishing a clear personal connection of what holistic wellness can look like with nature.

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The success of the Wellness Walks in Marin is self-evident. But it is important to note that it is realized out of an intent and purpose of service. They started with the power of welcome and invitation, and have been sustained with the relationships of community, family, and volunteer support. While funding is essential to support the logistical work, it is the people behind it that actualize it all.

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As we close out the year, and as many of us face physical, mental, and spiritual stress, we invite you to take the time for healing and wellness with nature and go outdoors. It is also the time of the year many of us begin to reflect on gratitude and appreciation–and reconnect with our families and loved ones for the holidays. May a nearby trail and parkland provide the space for all of that, for yourself, with your family, and your community.

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If you’re in the SF Bay Area on Saturday, Nov 12, join us!

José G. González is the Founder of Latino Outdoors, a volunteer-run organization focused on celebrating Latino culture in nature and connecting families with the outdoors.