State parks: A valuable resource for youth health | Cal Parks

Our 280 state parks represent the best of California with their countless natural, cultural, and historical treasures. Yet, the reality is that too many Californians, especially those from disadvantaged communities, are not afforded the opportunity to experience these wonders in their own backyards. California State Parks Foundation is working to change this. We believe that equitable access to the benefits that state parks provide is a right for all Californians.

The path to understand access to parks

Over the past year, we have been working with a team of researchers from the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA to learn more about how state parks can improve the lives of children while fostering the next generation of park stewards.

  1. Literature review of extensive body of research documenting the health and wellness benefits of time spent outdoors for youth.
  2. Analysis of demographic characteristics of residents in state parks communities, referred to as “visitorsheds,” which is the distance that people regularly travel (walk, bike, drive) for recreational and social visits.
  3. Survey of the park community on views of the relationship between programs for youth in state parks and youth health, barriers to youth engagement, and effective programs for bringing youth into state parks.


The report found that parks represent a wealth of health opportunities with 57 percent of all Californians living within a visitorshed of a state park – a natural collection area for visitors defined by the distance that people regularly walk, bike or drive for social or recreational purposes – including:

  • 54 percent of the state’s youth population
  • 3 million disadvantaged households
  • 60 percent of the state’s severely disadvantaged households
  • 1 million youth living below the poverty line

From this research, California now has the tools to build parks programs that activate the extensive network of communities and underserved populations living near our open spaces.

As the only independent voice for California’s state parks, California State Parks Foundation is not willing to stand by and watch years of investment in our public lands go to waste. We are rising to the challenge with a visionary strategy to keep the Golden State’s most vital natural and cultural treasures accessible for all — today and for the future!

This research was made possible by generous funding from The Joseph and Vera Long Foundation and William Randolph Hearst, III.