By José G. González
This article was originally published in Huffington Post
It’s clear that 2016 was the year of the park. The nation’s treasured spaces celebrated their centennial, raising awareness about the need to preserve our public spaces and expand opportunities to access for all Americans. In California, cities across the state voted to invest in expanding the amount of green space in their communities. We hope that the momentum continues in 2017 and that parks and public lands continue to have the support of the future President.
The Obama administration was an example of the importance of having park champions at the highest levels of government. President Obama protected more land and water than any other president. His Every Kid in a Park initiative gave every fourth grader, and their families, free access to national parks and all public lands, which preserve America’s most beautiful and historic places. Obama expanded monuments that celebrate the country’s historical diversity, such as Harriet Tubman National Monument, César E. Chavez National Monument, and Stonewall National Monument, to harness the power that parks and preservation have in making history come alive.
Kids receiving their Junior Ranger Badge at Muir Woods National Monument as part of a joint program with CA State Parks Summer in Learning Program with leadership from Latino Outdoors Regional Coordinator Alicia Cruz.
California has led the charge, too, to protect our public lands and treasured green spaces. State parks are often a model for the rest of the country, and California is stepping up to the challenge of meeting the needs of an increasingly urban, diverse population. A two-year transformation process is wrapping up, paving the way for reforms that will provide programming and diverse staffing to ensure that state park visitors reflect the Golden state’s demographics by 2025.
Californians also showed a willingness to support funding for parks in places like Los Angeles and Berkeley. In the case of Los Angeles County, an assessment of park needs commits the region to investing in reducing historical park disparities that have resulted in low-income communities receiving less than their share of green space. Given the importance that parks play in the health and wellbeing of our communities, I helped to launch Parks Now, a coalition of diverse park champions have come together to ensure that park reforms don’t get lost among other issues. We are pushing for equity in access, guided by the work I do through my own organization, Latino Outdoors, where we lead efforts to reconnect people of all backgrounds to our open spaces and to prove that we all have a place in the outdoors.
But there is still a lot of work to be done, and parks will always need a champion in Washington D.C.
We urge the president-elect and his administration to continue the work accomplished so far and to aim even higher in honor of our future generations and their right to public lands. Federal lands make up roughly 27 percent of the land area of the U.S., and they belong to each and every one of us. Public lands protect wild landscapes and natural and cultural resources, and invigorate us with their beauty, crisp air, and majestic views. Parks are a birthright of all Americans, which means we all deserve access to green space and we all have the responsibility to be stewards of our public lands.
We hope that the incoming administration embraces everyone’s right to green space and upholds the principle that public lands belong to everyone. We expect the Trump administration to:
- Be a vocal supporter of parks. Make sure that we continue to preserve our public lands for future generations.
- Continue to encourage greater access to our outdoors. Support initiatives like Every Kid in a Park and policies to expand access to parks for park-poor communities.
- Advocate for diverse parks leaders. Park staff should reflect our population in order to cater to the needs to our entire communities. Everyone deserves to feel welcome when they visit a park and to be able to take ownership of our breathtaking landscapes.
Improving our parks will benefit all our generations to come. Now is the time to be a champion for parks and keep the flame alive. Now is the time to protect the future of our public lands, more than ever.