Parks for All

Idris Ahmed is an Outdoor Outreach Leadership Program graduate, and former Crawford High School Adventure Club participant. 
Yesterday, he spoke to California State Legislators about the values of parks-based programs like Outdoor Outreach –and we could not be more proud.

Below is a excerpt from his testimony:

“I did not grow up in a family  that valued parks or the outdoors. We had to leave Somalia because of a civil war that left us without a home. We were lucky enough to come to America in order to start a new life like so many other immigrants to this country. Like many others I grew up navigating two different cultures. The memories of chaos were fresh on my parents minds so they did not perceive the outdoors as beneficial and only wanted us to do well in school.

While I succeeded in school it was not until Outdoor Outreach that I finally appreciated what a connection to the outdoors could do for me and what it could do for my community in City Heights. Outdoor Outreach provided mentors who loved the Outdoors and loved teaching youth. Every trip with Outdoor Outreach I learned important lessons. I learned to be brave when I was surfing and a wave pummeled me beneath the ocean. I learned to persevere when I was climbing the side of a cliff and felt stuck. But I also learned that everyone can benefit from a connection to the outdoors and that, despite what my brother told me, camping is not just for white people.

Through Outdoor Outreach I became an instructor and had the chance to give back to my community in City Heights. As a senior in high school applying to colleges I knew exactly what I would write my personal essays on: I wrote about Outdoor Outreach, my outdoor leadership experience, and how it changed my life. I wrote about how the program and my connection to the outdoors instilled a sense of confidence in me that I could never have found inside of the classroom. I graduated last year from Stanford with a Gates Millenium Scholarship and am now working here at the Capitol.

My success in Outdoor Outreach is not unique. There are stories of many participants from all cultures overcoming difficult odds to become outdoor instructors. The community I come from is a community of immigrants. Today, many of us are not sure how we fit into the American picture. I believe that park-based programs can help kids challenge themselves and develop a powerful sense of self and belonging.

Last year we served 15,000 youth and surveyed them to report what the most significant barrier to going to parks and beaches were. 77% said they lacked transportation to parks and beaches. 54% said they lacked family or peer support. 39% said they lacked a park nearby that they could access and 15% said the parks within their neighborhoods were unsafe.

As a coalition we have some key recommendations on how California can improve access to parks for the diverse communities we represent, that have historically had limited access.

1. Our work at Outdoor Outreach is one example of the important role that parks can play in addressing critical community needs like youth development. California can do a lot more to support innovative parks partnerships. The creation of the Partnerships Office is a great step but State Parks cannot do it alone. We should increase grant funding for community based organizations to provide culturally appropriate programs and transportation to our parks. 

2. At most parks, Day Use Fees are charged for vehicle day use only. There is no charge to walk or bike into these parks. Rates for parking are typically $8-10 for the day but can be as high as $20 at some Southern California parks and beaches during holidays and weekends. These are typically days when working families are most likely to have the time off to visit the park or beach. This affects who visits our State Parks and is one reason why in San Diego County there is more diversity in visitorship to municipal parks and beaches, like Mission Bay and La Jolla Shores. We recommend that a mechanism be created to provide a “Low Income Pass” for state and regional parks that allow individuals earning below the federal poverty line free entry.

3. At the same time we need to improve public transportation to parks and beaches.
California should create incentives for local jurisdictions to include parks in transportation planning to provide accessible transit connections between low-income, park-poor communities and state parks, state beaches, and other public lands.

There is also a need to increase the number and variety of lower-cost overnight accommodations at our parks. As our coastline is increasingly gentrified, affordable overnight accommodations are disappearing. To address this need, we support Assemblymember Gonzalez Fletcher’s AB250 to direct the Coastal Conservancy to develop and implement a Lower Cost Coastal Accommodations Program.  “

A special Thank You to KEEN Effect for funding over 15 advocacy opportunities in 2017, and allowing us to share the transformative power of the outdoors. 

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