Not Sure What to Do This Summer? Get Outside and Explore California’s Natural Treasures
By Pablo Rodriguez
Communities for a New California
Like millions of families across the country, my family has been looking forward to the upcoming 4th of July holiday weekend. And, just like millions of families throughout our nation we are mindful of our pocketbook. As a child, my family gave me the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. They taught me that we did not need to spend hundreds of dollars on an amusement park or travel thousands of miles away to an exotic location to get the most out of summer.
California is home to some of the most popular national, state and local parks, unique and diverse habitats, and other great cost-effective attractions that can bring families closer to nature – all for under $20.
I am the son of a carpenter and a cannery line worker. I am the proud grandson of migrant farm workers who followed the harvest of crops from California, through Oregon, and into Washington State four decades ago. During those four decades, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a Federal program that provides matching grants to States and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities, has brought over $1.2 billion in local and regional investments to California to help residents enjoy our state’s natural heritage. LWCF grants have been a sustaining force for millions of California families like mine. Those funds made it possible for my family to set deep roots in California and to create priceless memories celebrating birthdays, college graduations, and family reunions at Hagman and McConnell state parks in Merced County where I grew up.
Some of the most widely visited parks and outdoor recreational facilities across our state flourished thanks to the support of local LWCF investments. When my sister Elizabeth moved away to attend Fresno State, we discovered Fresno’s Woodward Park. It is the only regional park of its size in the entire Central Valley region, offering visitors an impressive array of amenities and attractions.
Visitors can bring their children to play at any one of the park’s three playgrounds, trek through over five miles of multipurpose trails, gaze at the numerous bird species inhabiting the park; attend a show at the site’s multi-use amphitheatre, or visit the authentic Japanese garden. Woodward Park has also been home to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) state cross-country championships since their inception in 1987. Since then, thousands of student athletes, along with their families and friends have associated the day after Thanksgiving with traveling to Woodward Park for the state championship meet.
Other popular California attractions made possible by LWCF local grants include the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge and Grassland Wildlife Management Area. These last remaining blocks of woodlands, grasslands, and wetlands in the Central Valley, not to mention the dozens of species inhabiting them, offer an exceptional way for local residents, and tourists from around the world alike, to come face to face with nature and experience firsthand these local treasures.
As an adult, I have enjoyed camping and hiking in Los Padres National Forest, located along central California’s picturesque coastal mountains. It includes nearly 2 million acres of some of the most scenic and breathtaking landscapes found in the world. The protected area is home to nearly 468 species of fish and wildlife, and represents one of the most successful LWCF funded projects in the nation, and is visited by millions of tourists from all corners of the globe year-round.
The hundreds of recreational facilities and thousands of acres of parklands throughout our state are a great resource for families to enjoy exploring together. The July 4th weekend is an excellent time for families and kids to reconnect with nature and explore the outdoors. Studies have shown that fewer and fewer of California’s children are getting the opportunity to enjoy outdoor recreation activities. In 2007, the Public Policy Institute of California released a study indicating that of the 2.8 million teens in California between 13-17 years old, 47% had ever gone hiking, camping, or experienced nature only once or not at all over their summer vacation that year. For the 1.3 million California teenagers who haven’t had the chance to camp, hike, fish and enjoy wildlands, there is a growing risk that access to these activities will decline considerably over the years to come if Congress doesn’t take the necessary action to protect and ensure access to our country’s irreplaceable public lands.
In recent months, Congress has taken significant steps to undermine existing wildland conservation efforts and projects that help kids get outdoors and be physically active. These steps include severe cutbacks to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as the introduction of Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act” – this bill would strip existing protections from tens of millions of acres of wildlands which are the source for much of our water as well as high quality camping, hiking, fishing and hunting experiences. Together, cuts to LWCF funding and the potential passage of the “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act” do not reflect the values and spirit of our state.
Millions of families have come to California because it is blessed with a bounty of land, climate, and natural beauty. Those natural blessings have made our state rich in industry and agriculture. We have however, managed to disturb the balance of nature as it has previously existed. Making California’s public lands, habitats, national, state, and local parks a priority are at the heart of not only ending that trend, but in reversing it.
Pablo Rodríguez is the Executive Director of Communities for a New California (CNC), a statewide civil rights advocacy organization. Prior to working with CNC Pablo has worked as a Public Policy Consultant as well as serving as Director of the Dolores Huerta Community Organizing Institute. Pablo is committed to achieving public policy that is socially, economically, and environmentally just for California’s families.