Latino Conservation Week: Breaking Down Barriers, Inspiring Tomorrow's Stewards

Place matters to all people. Latinos included. Many of our families have lived in this great nation for a long time and have lived on and worked the land. In some cases, our stories in those places are told today, and many are not.

Today, Latinos are not as actively engaged today in participating in our nation's public lands. Even with widely documented support, only eight percent of Latinos participated in outdoor recreation in 2015, according to the Outdoor Foundation.

Yet, as the largest minority group in America -- one that is expected to grow to nearly 30 percent of the population by 2050 -- the Latino community's engagement is critical to ensuring the future success and preservation of our nation's public lands. There is a wide gap between population and use, but by closing it we can inspire a new movement of environmental stewards.

This is why the third annual Latino Conservation Week, which kicked off this past weekend and continues through July 24, is so encouraging.

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More than 100 events are being held in 17 states and the District of Columbia - more than double the totals from 2015. The week is an opportunity for Latinos to demonstrate their passion for enjoying and protecting public lands, and it provides new possibilities for parks, agencies, organizations and even business to engage the Latino community.

Latinos are passionate about enjoying the outdoors and hold a strong belief that we have a moral obligation to protect it for future generations. Latino Conservation Week's events introduce Latinos to new opportunities, new locations and new ways to translate their passion for the outdoors into making a difference for our nation's treasured natural resources.

The National Park Service, as well as its Latino Heritage Internship Program, is holding more than a quarter of the year's events at NPS sites throughout the country. Events include helping to protect the Colorado River at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, exploring Cuban American history at Everglades National Park and learning about the trails at C&O Canal National Park. NPS's widespread participation demonstrates the spirit of Latino Conservation Week.

As National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in announcing the agency's involvement, "We are thrilled to be a part of Latino Conservation Week ... As we look ahead to the second century, we want everyone to find their own special connections to the incredible places that are our national parks."

More than 60 parks, organizations and community groups have joined Latino Conservation Week as sponsors and event partners. From agencies like NPS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service to environment groups like Conservation Lands Foundation, Sierra Club, and Wilderness Society to Latino groups like Por la Creacion Faith-based Alliance, Latino Outdoors, COFEM and LULAC, it's evident that Latino Conservation Week is a collaborative effort with the potential to have a significant positive impact on the Latino community and our nation's treasured spaces.

Latino Conservation Week is helping to break down barriers - a primary one being information - to the Latino population's access of public lands, to encourage new opportunities to experience these sites, identify our personal connection to them and to create a unique platform for groups to reach out to this community.

The gap between population size and use is significant, but if we want to truly inspire the next generation of environmental stewards, embracing the Latino community is key.