California parks are treasures. Let’s make it so that we can all make it happen.
California 280 state parks represent the best of California, covering over 1.65 million acres of protected land, 340 miles of coastline and coastal habitat, and over 3,000 historic buildings. From towering redwoods to swept sand beaches, our parks have it all. They provide us with places to bathe in hot springs, explore our state’s unique history, surf world-famous beaches, hike to peaks, build sandcastles, explore ghost towns, and even more.
Yet too many Californians, especially those from disadvantaged communities, lack the opportunity to experience the wonders in their own backyards. There are barriers to visiting the parks: cost barriers, lack of transportation, or just not feeling welcomed or comfortable while visiting are just a few. And it is people of color, people on low incomes and people living in poor park communities who bear the brunt of this inaccessibility most often.
Recent research from the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA showed that 57% of Californians live within a typical walk, bike ride, or short drive of a state park. Although 59% of households located within these short distances from state parks are disadvantaged – including 1 million young people living below the poverty line – cultural, linguistic and technological barriers discourage these people from going there.
In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a set of budget proposals that will put the state on track to dramatically expand access to the park that every Californian deserves. These proposals include:
- $ 68 million to help educate California’s 6 million public school students and their teachers in state parks. The funds would improve learning facilities and increase interpretive capacity so that students can take advantage of the incredible learning opportunities in the parks. In addition, the governor has proposed education funding to help school districts cover the costs of student field trips to state parks.
- An Adventure Pass pilot program, modeled on the very successful Every Kid Outdoors program managed by the National Park Service since 2016. The pilot project would provide free passes to fourth-graders and their families in 19 state parks, add interpretive capacity, and expand outreach to schools to support logistics of visiting these sites.
- Funding to support a pilot partnership between public libraries and the state park system, modeled after another successful program in Marin County that allows library card holders to check state park passes and explore nearby parks.
- Funds to support beneficiaries of CalWORKs and other support programs by requesting passes for low-income people existing in state parks.
All of these ideas are seen by advocates as promising ways to expand access to state parks for some of California’s toughest communities. The current budget surplus, combined with the surge in park visits in the wake of the pandemic, provided us with the opportunity to explore solutions that have worked elsewhere and to gather feedback on how they might work on a larger scale. . We urge the legislator to support these innovative proposals.
Rachel Norton is the executive director of the California State Parks Foundation. Email him at [email protected] She wrote this for CalMatters, a public service journalism firm committed to explaining how the California State Capitol works and why it matters.