SAN DIEGO —
Outdoor enthusiast Manuel Belmonte always poses the same question to participants of his guided nature tours.
“How old were you when you went on your first hike?” he says.
It’s not rare to hear that this hike, the one they are on, is their first, said Belmonte, who is a program coordinator with Latino Outdoors San Diego.
It’s a sign, he says, of the economic, social and cultural barriers Latinos face to accessing the outdoors.
“There are cultural misconceptions that (outdoor spaces) are only for certain people, and we are working to break those stigmas,” he said.
Latino Outdoors San Diego exposes Latino families and individuals to outdoor recreational activities — such as hiking, kayaking and beach barbeques — to minimize assumptions that might discourage them from exploring new spaces and hobbies.
Recently the group was awarded a $10,820 grant by Parks California, a partner of the California State Parks system.
The grant will help Latino Outdoors organize trips for Latino families to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Silver Strand State Beach and Palomar Mountain State Park.
He said some of the barriers Latino families face can be as small as not knowing where to park or not being able to afford park access permits. Other barriers include not having transportation or money to rent camping equipment.
There also are social and cultural misconceptions about outdoor recreation, he said.
“There’s a mentality of what is in mainstream media, which in the past has been White Americans enjoying nature or the lone explorer,” Belmonte said. “The cultural misconception is that those things are only for said people.”
Managers of public lands are aware that there are diversity deficits in the parks system’s visitors.
A survey by the National Parks Service found 77 percent of visitors to the 419 national parks were White and 23 percent were people of color, although people of color make up 43 percent of the country’s population, ABC News reported in July.
It’s an issue for state parks as well, said Myrian Coronel, director of community engagement with Parks California.
She said Parks California awarded its “Route to Parks” grant to 20 organizations across the state, including two in San Diego — Latino Outdoors San Diego and the City Heights Community Development Corporation.
The goal for giving grants to grassroots organizations is to increase diversity among state park visitors, she said, and counteract a perception that such public outdoor spaces are not accessible.
“We want to make sure all people in California understand and appreciate these spaces,” Coronel said.
COVID-19 has drawn more attention to open spaces, she added, making it a perfect opportunity to introduce first-time visitors to recreational activities and outdoor spaces.
Latino Outdoors San Diego plans to use the grant to pay for transportation, meals and parking fees, Belmonte said.