By Holly Martinez, Director of Programs and Advocacy
Our leading champion and chair of Pathways to Parks, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, recently spent the day with us visiting California state parks, meeting with partners, and learning more about impactful programming working to improve the health and wellness for California’s youth. We called it “a day of learning and listening” to those change agents making equitable access to our public lands a reality for all Californians.
We began the day at Los Angeles State Historic Park with a tour led by the Department of Parks and Recreation highlighting the role this incredible urban park plays in the lives of its surrounding community, and thus embraced and loved by those who experience and treasure it.
Following the tour, we gathered with local partners to hold a discussion centered on the topic of equitable access. This gathering was to understand more deeply the leading efforts by those who are working to eliminate barriers and make the park a relevant and welcoming place for everyone. Thank you to those who participated in this honest and authentic conversation – or as Rue Mapp, of Outdoor Afro, insightfully called it our “Circle of Solutions” – to shed light on the challenges and continued issues we must work together to address if we truly are going to achieve a California for all that includes parks for all.
Later that afternoon, we hosted a picnic at Will Rogers State Historic Park with the Community Nature Connection program, a grantee of California State Parks Foundation. There we were joined by a group of young adults who participated in the Naturalist Explorers program for a meaningful lunchtime conversation about the positive impact of outdoors only made possible because of this program. I recall the words “healing” and “whole” and “happy” from their mouths and they come to mind often as we think about the necessary advocacy ahead of us. These conversations will help those advocacy efforts to create and strengthen pathways to parks for the many youth like them who still haven’t experienced the wonder of nature.
Finally, we concluded the day visiting the Nurture in Nature program of the Child and Family Development Center of Providence Saint John’s whose pilot program is centered around accessing nature to promote mental health, another grantee of California State Parks Foundation. The testimony of a mother who joined us highlighted the true impact of outdoor experiences as a family unit in fostering critical connections and bonds not only to each other, but also to the surrounding environment in which we live.
The day had an impact on all of us and we are very grateful to the First Partner for her commitment to being an informed and savvy champion who’s personal passion for parks and the belief in the healing power of nature will disrupt the narrative that parks are not a place for just some people, but for all Californians.