Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Parks Forward for All

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Parks Forward for All

Article excerpt

The independent Parks Forward Commission in California is calling for transformational change to diversify access to and support for state parks. State parks are not located near where most people live. State parks do not meet the needs of diverse people. Many parks departments do not have demographic information about their users. Incremental change, more money alone, and old ways of doing business will not solve these problems.

In 1928, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., prepared a guide for California state parks that became a model for other states. Now, the Parks Forward report is a best-practice example. The commission's work also dovetails with NRPA's Three Pillars: Conservation, Health and Wellness, and Social Equity.

The California Situation

California has the largest and most varied natural and cultural holdings of any state park system. State parks include 3,600 employees, 279 parks, 1.6 million acres and 339 miles of coastline, as well as beaches, lakes, rivers, hiking and biking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas - and Native-American sites.

As demographics change, parks need to change to meet the needs of the people. California's Latino population is projected to grow from 38 percent in 2010 to 45 percent in 2040. "Millennials," born between 1980 and 2000, constituted 29 percent of California's population in 2010 and represent the largest generation in history. An even higher percentage of millennials, 46 percent, were Latinos in 2010, while 51 percent of 12-yearolds were Latinos. Californians increasingly live in cities. In 2010, 61 percent of the state's residents were clustered in three urban areas; by 2050, that number is projected to grow to 76 percent.

For Commissioner and University of Southern California Professor Manuel Pastor, change is about modernizing parks. "We need a park system that meets our ambitions," he says. "To do that, it must be modernized in three ways. First, we need to modernize the operations, bureaucracy and information about who's using parks. Second, we need to modernize the demographics of who uses and works in parks. When we look at who's voting for park bond measures, it's the new California. The [park] visitorship should look like California." Pastor concludes, "Finally, we need to modernize how state parks works with partners. Nothing gets done by one institution alone - we need to work with business, public-private partnerships, other park systems and the community."

Increasing Access

Parks are not located near where most people live. Generally, parkpoor, income-poor areas are disproportionately populated by people of color, while park-rich areas are far from population centers, according to the report, which cited The City Project's work. State parks are far from the people, as in the map shown on page 46.

Improving access for underserved communities and urban areas requires parks that meet their needs. This means active recreation like soccer, larger picnic areas for multigenerational family gatherings, special events, multilingual historic and cultural resources, and accessible lodging, according to the commission.

Transportation and school programs are the most important tools to get people from inner cities to state parks, according to Michael Mantell, president of Resources Legacy Fund. The commission cites Transit to Trails as a proven program. Transit to Trails provides park-poor, income-poor communities with opportunities to learn about water, land, wildlife and cultural history, and engage in healthy physical activity. Transit to Trails gets people to parks, prepares young people to be tomorrow's stewards of our natural heritage, and helps reduce congestion, improve air quality and reduce polluted water run-off. …

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