Students, faculty, community members and leaders looked toward the future of parks in California during Parks Onward Day.
Hosted at the College of Environmental Design on May 28, the event brought together 25 experts and a large audience of parks administrators and community supporters of parks to explore the future of national, state and local parks in California.
“The California population is growing and changing,” College of Environmental Design Dean Michael Woo said in his opening remarks. “How do we make parks culturally relevant for the future?”
He emphasized the challenge of expanding and diversifying in order to make the parks appealing to California’s changing population.
Woo was a member of the Parks Forward Commission, an independent commission that charted new directions for the California state parks system. He was invited to serve on the commission by John Laird, the secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency who spoke at the event’s opening session.
A popular topic of discussion was the current drought, and how that contributes to how parks are preserved.
“We have beautiful parks in California,” Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley said. “We believe that we will be wonderful partners in helping to solve this.”
Congresswoman Judy Chu spoke at the event, detailing her efforts to introduce legislation that designated much of the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument. In 2014, President Obama signed the bill into law.
The impact of the legislation was immediate, as it set aside $4.5 million to help with preservation of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Chu, who referred to the mountains as a “national treasure” and the region’s “crown jewel, thanked the community for its support.
“We now have the unique opportunity to build this monument from the ground up, providing thousands of families the opportunity to enjoy nature for generations to come,” Chu said. “It’s our responsibility to protect these lands and promote access for all.”
The other topics covered throughout the day included innovative communication technology, cutting-edge designs by Cal Poly Pomona architecture students for cabins in state parks, transforming green and brown spaces, overcoming barriers to access, and ensuring access, relevancy and equity.
The first panel of the day focused on environmental education and interpretation. Panelists spoke about the various barriers to park attendance, including lack of trails, facilities and knowledge of the parks, and focused on ways to solve these problems in the future.
“To increase the relevancy of the parks, we need to speak to the values of those communities,” said Scott Shepherd, manager of the Adventure Club and Leadership Program at Outdoor Outreach.
In his past experience, he saw success in informing the community about employment opportunities because of the park, as well as educational programs that partnered with local schools.
“Engage them in educational activities that give them a personal connection. Therefore, they want to protect that place,” he said.