In October 2022, Birt Johnson, Jr. was elected to serve as the Board Chair of California State Parks Foundation. If you didn’t get a chance to read about him, his family, and his Values Statement about his commitment to community work – read the previous blog post here.
As in the previous post, we asked Birt some additional questions to get a sense of this vision for California State Parks Foundation, California state parks, the those who use (and don’t use) these places. We share those questions and answers here with you below.
Do you believe that all Californians should have access to California State Parks? Why?
Yes, research has identified and highlighted the health and wellness benefits our 279 beautiful state parks provide. At California State Parks Foundation we believe that equal access to these benefits should be a right for all Californians. There are increasing concerns related to youth health, combined with increased mental health disorders and chronic diseases like asthma or obesity, often with a more significant impact on underserved communities.
Research has also reflected the positive impacts open access to places for physical activity can: strengthen bones, reduce cardiovascular disease, reduce the risk of cancers, reduce behavioral problems in young children. As parks supporters we have all experienced the relaxing and healing benefits you can receive from a park outing individually, with family or friends.
What role do you think California State Parks Foundation can serve in creating access to parks for all Californians?
I believe that creating access begins with increasing awareness of parks and the health benefits awaiting new park visitors. Underserved communities are often park-poor and green spaces go unused due to financial, cultural relevancy, language, or technology constraints. California State Parks Foundation is seeking to facilitate and enhance public program collaborations.
Two examples where California State Parks Foundation advocacy supported access initiatives that have been adopted by the state. The first, by partnering with California’s Office of the First Partner, California State Parks Foundation has embarked on an advocacy initiative Pathways to Parks. This effort explored policies and programs dedicated to increasing access to parks for every Californian. The second, partnering again with the First Partner, introduced two new statewide programs to help children and families explore state parks. The California State Park Adventure Pass gives fourth graders and their families a free annual pass to state parks and the State Library Parks pass allows library cardholders to check out free day-use state park passes.
Ultimately, creating an environment that is welcoming to all Californians will ensure our 279 parks are enjoyed, valued, and supported for generations to come.
Why do you think it is important for us to improve park experiences?
The physical and mental benefits of parks have been identified, researched and are well documented. Our board recently reviewed and updated our strategic plan, one of our first acknowledgements is that the plan remains a “living document” requiring review and change to remain relevant. While our beautiful state parks have provided countless memories and healing experiences for well over 100 years, our visitors have changed over time. Today’s visitors arrive from various points on the compass; from local communities, from across our diverse state, or beyond. They may have different needs and expectations.
Do you want to learn more about the topics above and what California State Parks Foundation is doing to address these important needs in state parks? Be sure to follow us on social media at @calparks on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for new blog posts and features.