National Park Service Centennial Is A Time For Celebration, Redoubling Efforts For Diversity

This week marks the Centennial anniversary of the National Park Service and to celebrate the occasion, Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewel will be holding a town hall discussion about diversity at the César E. Chávez National Monument in California.

There is plenty to celebrate. The National Park Service over the last 100 years has taken the lead in preserving many of America's natural treasures and landscapes. From the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone to the Great Smokey Mountains, Rocky Mountains and Everglades, our national parks symbolize the magnificence and greatness of America.

By protecting these public lands and even more as national monuments, lakeshores and recreation areas, we're making sure that these treasured sites are here for future generations to enjoy.

While the choice of Chávez as the location for such a momentous occasion may seem peculiar to some, it demonstrates the Secretary's recognition of the important role of the Park Service in also preserving our shared historic and cultural heritage. We need to tell inclusive stories that recognize the diverse makeup of America and honor the contributions and leadership of people of color.

Chávez was a civil rights activist who launched what would later become the United Farm Workers union. He led the effort to secure more rights and higher wages for the tens of thousands of farm workers throughout the country. The monument protects the original headquarters for the UFW, Chávez's home and his gravesite.

As honored as I am to serve as a speaker at this event, it reminds me that we still have much to do in making sure we have a system of public lands that truly reflects the diversity of our nation - whether that's for Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans or African Americans.

By 2020, half of youth in America will be of color. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of our country's residents will be people of color. These shifting demographics emphasize the importance of making sure the next 100 years of conservation is reflective of ALL Americans.

Without the engagement and support of all Americans, we are at risk of losing the historic, cultural, natural, spiritual, economic and recreational resources that our public lands currently provide our families and communities. Climate change, development threats such as those HAF recently profiled in a Colorado white paper, and political pressures in the U.S. Congress and statehouses across the West to seize and sell off public lands require many more of us to stand up for our collective heritage. If we don't, we stand to lose what we have - never mind losing opportunities to conserve new parks such as Castner Range and the Grand Canyon Heritage National Monuments -- and other valuable natural and cultural resources for our children and grandchildren.

Earlier this year, the Hispanic Access Foundation joined a first-of-its-kind coalition of diverse leaders from civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community organizations. The Next 100 Coalition is calling on President Obama to issue a Presidential Memorandum that emphasizes this need to establish an inclusive system of national parks and other public lands that reflects, honors and engages all Americans. Sign our petition at change.org.

This coalition is rooted in vast community support. A new poll released just this week from New America Media shows 9 in 10 African American, Asian Pacific American, and Latino voters want our current president- and the next, to protect our national public lands. Additionally, 95% of minority voters believe it is important for young people to see their cultures and histories reflected in National Public Lands.

While our national public lands don't currently fully reflect our country's demographic and ethnic diversity, especially as the face of our country continues to change at a rapid pace, it can.

Over the last eight years, we've seen the President establish national monuments, like Chávez in 2012, that conserve Native American, Latino, African American, Asian American and women's history. By building on this legacy, we can ensure our cultural heritage is intact for our children and generations to come.