Sure, there are times when I head to the woods for some solitude to escape from a daily life of standing room only on the BART train or the crowded sidewalks of my city commute. But nothing compares to hearing the shouts of joy from kids playing in the waves at the beach, snapping family pictures at mountain summits for proud and exhilarated hikers, or seeing a child walk into a redwood forest for the first time.
Admittedly, that’s my job. My whole career has been about protecting land and forests for parks, so that people have access to our most special places. Ever since my first summer job building hiking trails in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, I have been inspired by the role of accessible open space in our communities. These mountains, in particular, are the wilderness playground for the cities of the northeast and every summer, the trails fill with Cub Scout troops, inner city camping programs, and pavement-weary families from all walks of life.
While a lack of public transportation into the mountains does make it hard for many, the relative accessibility of these beautiful forested mountains meant that, as I repaired the trails each summer, there was a nearly constant stream of happy (or temporarily miserable) hikers wandering past in the midst of an experience they would never forget. More often than not, they would take a break from their group banter, look curiously at my mud-covered, pickaxe-wielding self and say, “thank you,” as if I deserved some credit for the adventure they were having.
That pretty much sealed it for me. Those were moments I wanted to relive again and again. I wanted to have a hand in getting people to these beautiful places, so that I could feel connected to that collective experience. As a country, we have worked hard to set aside special places for all of us to share. From city parks to national wilderness areas, we have made a choice in the “democratization” of natural beauty because, quite simply, time spent in the wonder of the outdoors makes our lives better. It makes our communities stronger, our families happier, our life experiences richer and our bodies healthier.
So this Sunday, when I saw the parking lot at Prairie Creek Redwood State Park full of families representing the full diversity of California, I was overcome with gratitude for those who had the vision and resources to save that spectacular place for all of us to share. I am also equally grateful for those who work to make our parks and open spaces accessible and welcoming to communities who have less opportunity to visit the outdoors.With that in mind, Latino Conservation Week (external link) and the year-round efforts of the Hispanic Access Foundation (external link) have done an incredible job of breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for people to come together, not only to experience and enjoy the outdoors but also to steward and protect our natural resources.
Kicking off Latino Conservation Week this year was an excursion for 20 young adults from the Los Angeles area to experience the Giant Forest within Sequoia National Park, home to five of the world’s largest trees. As the students explored, they were shown how to collect scientific data on the size of giant sequoia and the health of the forest. They also learned from Latino employees at the National Park about what they do to protect this massive forest and the giant sequoia found only in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
As we celebrate Latino Conservation Week, we’re inspired by the more than 100 events held across the country at national and state parks, wildlife refuges, and monuments to encourage everyone to explore the outdoors and learn how to protect our shared public lands. These events and opportunities are a wonderful chance to discover, experience, and demonstrate a passion for caring for our natural world.
Follow Sam on Twitter @SamH4Redwoods