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At Parks California, we believe that every community should feel a sense of connection to their natural spaces. When we all have a personal relationship to these places, it evokes a sense of protection and stewardship for the places we hold dear. Through local and relevant community engagement, and our commitment to park equity, we believe Parks California will contribute to the long-term health of our park system – from recreational visitors to natural resource protection – and communities.

We’re making this happen by facilitating and co-designing park experiences that speak to all people throughout our state, and by building bridges between historically marginalized communities and nature.

This unique approach is what we call Parks California’s engagement theory, and it supports visitors’ personal journeys outside – no matter where they are in their relationship with nature. The goal: develop parks that are truly reflective of their communities and inspire people to become the next generation of park stewards. We do this in six steps.

  1. Community Trust + Engagement
  2. Awareness of Parks + Offerings
  3. Park Experience
  4. Re-engagement
  5. Stewardship
  6. Advocacy* (led by other nonprofit organizations)
By creating multiple meaningful touchpoints with nature, Parks California supports the fostering of ongoing and deeper relationships with parks – leading visitors to appreciate, care for and protect parks with heart. It is how we create parks for all.

So, what does community engagement look like in action?

At Parks California, we see an initial need to create more parks in urban areas. Take, for example, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area in San Francisco. Candlestick Point was the first California State Park to bring state park values into the urban setting. An easy public transit ride drops off visitors right at the entrance to this waterfront park with spectacular bay views. Candlestick Point is a peaceful respite where people can meet up in large wind-sheltered picnic areas, go fishing, birdwatch, wander down trails, and just revel in the beauty of nature.

To strengthen the current efforts at Candlestick Point, Parks California and other local nonprofit partners have come together to join efforts and maximize its resources. This initial effort will draft joint agreements, identify each organization’s dedicated resources for the park and identify resource gaps. Once the group identifies their resources and opportunities, they will expand to include members of the local community. The current park partner working group includes members of California State Parks (Bay Area Sector), Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Parks California, Literacy for Environmental Justice and California State Parks Foundation.

Secondly, we need to increase equitable park access by making it easier for people to visit state parks. Local nonprofits across the state are offering rich programs in state parks and providing transportation solutions to make it easier for people to connect to these natural spaces. Our goal is to support and share these innovative transportation approaches across the state and shed light on their impact. Two programs that allow us to exercise this goal include Parks California’s Route to Parks Grants and passPORTS – a collaborative program between California State Parks – PORTS, Computer Using Educators (CUE) and Parks California

In addition to Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, the Bowtie parcel in Los Angeles is another prime example of community engagement. As it moves closer to becoming the next California State Park, the Bowtie Youth Council meets monthly to discuss ideas and priorities they would like to see in the park’s development. Council members participate in public meetings, meet park professionals and present their ideas to California State Parks. Parks California believes parks are for all people, and when local communities are invited to participate in the creation of a park, a trusted alliedship can be harnessed for the use and protection of parks. We are proud to award Clockshop with a grant in support of these efforts.

Finally, we believe it is critical to make park experiences more relevant and welcoming to all people in California. With such a diverse state and so many subsequently diverse experiences, we know that what works for some of us doesn’t work for us all – and that’s beautiful. State parks are stunning natural spaces. They are also active, joyful spaces where individuals and families gather to commemorate, celebrate, and make lifelong memories together.

We recognize building these meaningful park experiences is a little more challenging during a global pandemic.

That’s why we created ParkSpeak – free, virtual park events that connect community members across the state with behind-the-scenes access to state parks spanning northern California redwoods to the San Diego desert.

ParkSpeak amplifies important work happening between California State Parks, regional staff and local partners to enhance the park experience, provide equitable access to youth and restore connections between tribal communities and their native lands, among other noteworthy collaborations. Watch the ParkSpeak series now.

With our vibrant in-person and virtual experiences, Parks California ensures state parks offer opportunities for everyone to connect with nature. We are proud to be a thought partner and collaborate with local organizations who value park equity, help us scale learnings and strengthen partnerships to create parks for all.