A National Park Service for the Next 100 Years

On August 25, 2016, our nation will celebrate an incredible milestone - the 100th year anniversary of the founding of the national parks. Called by some the "best idea we ever had," the centennial, which is officially being commemorated by the National Park Service, will officially launch the next 100 years of park stewardship through a whole host of events, including recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.

Our nation has changed dramatically since 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson created a park system which encompasses such familiar names as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.Back then, people of color totaled around ten percent of the U.S. population, and Hispanics were not even counted by the census. Now, the Census Bureau predicts that by 2043 a majority of our country's residents will be people of color. Yet an Outdoor Foundation study found that 73 percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities were still white. As our nation's demographics changes, a question arises: Who will protect our public lands if we do not?

The good news is that a movement is underway to claim shared stewardship of our nation's lands. The Latino Conservation Alliance, of which the Hispanic Federation is a member, and civil rights, environmental justice, conservation groups and community leaders from across the country have joined in a coalition called The Next 100. This coalition has launched a campaign to encourage federal land management agencies to reflect the demographic and ethnic diversity of our nation's citizens; and to respect the historical, cultural and spiritual stories and contributions of all Americans.

Momentum for inclusion is growing. Recently, the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), a coalition of 40 of the nation's most prominent Latino organizations, joined The Next 100 in asking the President Obama to challenge his administration to understand and remove barriers to accessing parks and other public lands; recognize the importance of historical, spiritual, sacred and cultural preservation; affirmatively and intentionally engage diverse stakeholders, and, finally, reverse appalling trends by implementing real programs to increase workforce diversity within the National Park Service, US Forest Service and other agencies.

During the past 8 years, the President has shown great leadership for enhancing parks and public lands by protecting 23 national monuments, including several which recognize and conserve Native American, Latino, African American, Asian American, and women's history. Just recently, he visited national parks with his family, raising the profile of the upcoming 100th anniversary. As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this summer, we hope that the President will go a step further and support an inclusive vision for the next century.

That is why we are now calling on the President to build on his legacy in the area of parks and public lands by issuing a Presidential Memorandum on August 25, 2016, on the centennial of the National Park Service. The Memorandum should emphasize the need for the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to adopt guiding priorities for a more inclusive approach to conservation of our public lands.

The Hispanic Federation, in partnership with the Latino Conservation Alliance, NHLA, and The Next 100 coalition, is committed to inclusion and diversity. We urge our leaders in Washington to make sure that all families are thoughtfully included in programs designed to increase their participation, enjoyment, and, most importantly, stewardship, of our parks and public lands, which after all are part of our shared national heritage. In the next 100 years, national parks and other public lands must reflect, honor, and engage all Americans -- for our families, and our future.