National Parks Centennial Marks Milestone, Needs to Represent a Future of Inclusion

One hundred years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill establishing the National Park Service. From day one, the goal was "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

Ever since then, many Americans have grabbed their gear, families, and pets and hit the road to visit their national parks. Many of us have the park passports with many stamps that represent family road trips and many incredible memories to go with it.

Thanks to our national parks, I have experienced awe that I haven't experienced anywhere else. One that motivates me to want to shout to the world: "Come out and see this!"

For 100 years, thanks to the hard work and commitment of the conservation community, which includes, sports men and women, environmentalists, recreationalists and other nature lovers, the national park legacy has been protected.

But America has changed in the last 100 years, hasn't it?

America's culture is evolving. Population has grown. Demographics have shifted. And these trends will continue for decades to come. Yet, not only is there still an expectation for access to our national parks, but there is also a clear belief that these locations should represent the history and heritage of America's various communities.

The good news is that there are three dynamic forces that have changed that make it possible for this to be achieved:

  1. Technology makes it possible to inform more people, especially diverse communities -- creating access and allowing them to share their own personal experiences

  • Consumer purchasing power is growing - Latinos now exceed at $1.5 trillion
  • All Americans expect transparency and as we look to the next 100 years, we must now tell the story that reflects the values, heritage, and story of the real America -- I think Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir would both be amazed to see the growth and rich melting pot culture of our nation's historical sites.
  • Hispanic Access Foundation is one of several organizations making up the Latino Conservation Alliance, which demonstrates a major shift in America's leadership to include authentic, Latino-lead vocal grassroots and national organizations who are making valuable contributions to the protection of our nation's public lands.

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    For example, in the last month three new national monuments were established in the California desert. This effort to protect the California desert had strong local support from a diverse coalition of community leaders, organizations, and constituents. Latinos throughout the region were active in the coalition by educating their communities about protecting this region. Over the course of three years, members of Por la Creación led hikes, events and camping trips for Latino community leaders, youth and families at Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, San Jacinto Mountains, The Living Desert and Amboy Crater. Additionally, Latinos were vocal proponents at Sen. Dianne Feinstein's public meeting last October with the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture and over 100 Latino faith leaders from Assemblies of God Southern Pacific District jointly signed a letter to President Obama urging him to take action.

    Millennials are trailblazing too. One example is Manuel Galaviz, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas who won an internship through the National Park Service's Latino Heritage Internship Program and spent last summer in D.C. drafting the National Historic Landmark (NHL) nomination for Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, significant to him because he has worked in this community and has researched and written about the cultural and political empowerment the founding of Chicano Park has generated for the community of Barrio Logan and Chicana/os in the United States. Manuel is passionate about assisting this community in helping to keep this culturally significant place protected.

    The Latino community is ready to help, as are our African American and Native American brothers and sisters. We're stepping up to do this work and our inclusion in the Centennial -- not just as spectators, but also as active participants in the decision-making -- we can ensure the original intentions of the National Park Service continue for centuries to come.

    While the Centennial marks a significant milestone, it should also represent a greater commitment to inclusion with our parks and lands. The Centennial belongs to all of us. And America's numerous communities - our experiences and stories - weave a diverse social fabric that will help everyone experience the awe of our nation's public lands.