Nurturing the Seeds We’ve Planted
Parks California has a clear vision: Strengthen California’s state parks through innovative partnerships that expand access to all, inspire and equip the next generation to experience and protect these extraordinary places, and enhance and sustain ecosystem health and biodiversity.
Our first two years were focused on taking the initial steps toward bringing that vision to life. We planted seeds, tended to them, and anticipated, despite a worldwide pandemic, that they would grow. Then, in 2021, we saw those seeds begin to sprout into something bigger and more impactful – just like we always imagined they would.
The growth we experienced in 2021 can be represented by the following themes:
- Strengthening partnerships on the ground between parks, nonprofits, and communities.
Our strength is in our collaboration, working creatively together to solve complex problems more efficiently and effectively to create long-term solutions.
- Planning for an inclusive, welcoming, and climate-resilient future for parks.
From the people who visit today and will visit in the future, to the park staff developing solutions in the face of climate change – we’ve come together more than ever to help create a better park system for all to enjoy.
- Holistically addressing natural resource protection and equitable access.
Impacts from climate change, catastrophic wildfires, and unprecedented visitation demand on our parks require that we reach across jurisdictional boundaries and disciplines to care for these extraordinary places while also improving diverse visitor experiences at parks for all.
- Growing a talented team that makes it all possible.
To have an even bigger impact in communities across the state, we saw the need to expand our team to match the growth we experienced in the past year. We now have a talented group of individuals committed to carrying out our vision.
As we move forward with this momentum, we feel grateful and humbled by the contributions of so many people. Our community is rapidly growing, both in size and in diversity of partners – and it takes every one of us to do this work. We invite you to join us in reflecting on the past year and how Parks California, thanks to all your support, is in bloom.
The California State Parks System – made up of 279 extraordinary parks and spanning 1.6 million acres – requires funding, scalable solutions, and community connections to ultimately do two things:
- Ensure that parks offer an unforgettable visitor experience that meets the needs of California’s diverse population.
We support this by building community-based partnerships to increase access to parks and supporting programs that facilitate park access, enhancing educational and recreational opportunities, and creating culturally relevant connections to parks – particularly among young people and other marginalized and BIPOC communities that have been historically underserved by our parks.
- Sustain parks’ iconic landscapes and diverse plants and wildlife for generations to come.
California State Parks includes 1.6 million acres, more than 280 miles of coastline (that’s 1/4 of California’s coastline!) and 625 miles of lake and river frontage – and how we care for these spaces today will have ripple effects for generations to come. We support this by catalyzing innovative approaches and climate-smart partnerships to build ecosystem health and protect biodiversity, and by equipping state park scientists and the next generation workforce with the skills necessary to address climate change.
In partnership with California State Parks and many other values-aligned groups across the state, Parks California remains steadfast and focused on a future where all people have the opportunity to build lifelong, meaningful connections with nature.
Together, we elevate the stories, share knowledge (old and new), maintain cultural sites, and share all people's histories in California. We manage the rarest California landscapes and natural systems to their best health. I extend my profound gratitude to all of you at Parks California and State Parks, who work on behalf of all things Parks.
In this time of incredible challenges and successes, this has been a lifetime in a year. My sincere best and thanks to each one of you.
Director, California State Parks
In 2021, new partnerships sprouted and existing partnerships grew deeper roots as we engaged with a network that shares our vision for welcoming, inclusive, and climate-resilient parks. A generous donation of in-kind and direct funds helped to bring many of the efforts below to fruition and scale to reach even more people and places.
We invite you to explore our highlights from 2021 and celebrate these achievements by our side.
Innovating the State Park Field Trip with passPORTS
As in-person field trips for students continued to be limited as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Parks California continued our partnership with passPORTS to support its virtual and in-person field trips. The program increased equitable access to California State Parks for K-12 students and teachers at a time when most of education had gone virtual and parks were a safe place to visit.
- 4,500 online PORTS sessions were booked in 2021 using the new logistics software, reaching approximately 112,500 students.
- 282,000 students signed up for passPORTS field trips during the 2020-2021 school year.
- The partnership continues to offer grant funding for educators eager to host field trips that support student learning about environmental, scientific, cultural, and historical elements of California.
Expanding programs in urban parks
Did you know that for two-thirds of California’s population, their first experience with nature is likely in an urban park near where they live? As a new focus in 2021, Parks California made grants to projects and nonprofits in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego to increase community-driven park programming.
- In San Francisco’s Candlestick Point State Recreation Area, we convened a group of nonprofit and community partners through relevant programming such as art and summer camp programs to strengthen collaboration, leverage resources and connect surrounding neighborhoods to the park.
- In Los Angeles State Historic Park and the Bowtie Project (California’s next urban state park), the Bowtie Youth Council intentionally brought youth voices into the park planning process and facilitated discussions from 2020 to 2021 about the development of the future Bowtie Park. After presenting their findings and policy demands, California State Parks responded with these commitments.
- Border Field State Park (located at the San Diego-Tijuana international border) created the Divided Together podcast series along with a mobile and web app that allows users to take a self-guided virtual tour through the park. It offers a unique perspective that ties the land to its people, including voices and stories from the Kumeyaay people – the first people of this area.
Reimagining a climate-smart future for parks
During the unprecedented wildfires of 2020, California’s first and oldest park, Big Basin Redwoods State Park lost almost all infrastructure – campgrounds, restrooms, visitor centers. While the wildfires were tragic, rebuilding the park is a unique opportunity to re-envision and model how parks can be both climate-ready and accessible to all.
- We joined the Reimagining Big Basin project to mobilize the power of collaboration and innovation to explore critical questions that all parks face: “How will parks need to evolve and change over the next 100 years to be climate-ready and accessible to all? How can we prioritize diverse stories and visitor experiences so that all feel welcomed in our state parks?”
- Redwood forest health and wildfire resilience play a central role in the future of the Park. We supported both wildfire recovery efforts and invested in the development of a regional forest management strategy to guide short and long-term forest stewardship.
- We are working with California State Parks to test tools that best balance protecting California’s treasured redwood ecosystems while ensuring all people get the chance to experience them.
Expanding career development opportunities in the outdoors
One of the best ways to ensure parks are cared for for centuries to come is to nurture a more diverse and inclusive workforce within California State Parks. The Parks California Natural Resource Stewardship Career Pathways grants invest in the next generation of people caring for and protecting outdoor spaces by providing job training skills, mentorship, and career exposure in the natural resources field.
Parks California announced six inaugural recipients of the grants in 2021. Our grantees represent several unique and innovative workforce development models with California State Parks, including university, non-profit partnerships, tribal partnerships, urban park job training models, to name a few.
With an intention to provide programming to traditionally underrepresented communities, we’re proud that 83% of the participants impacted by the grant program identified as Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
The program invests in the job skills and trainings, and also in the mentorship and professional development guidance for the trainees to navigate next steps in their careers. 80% of grantees shared examples of their participants landing positions within the natural resource field shortly after the 2021 training programs.
Uplifting untold stories of public lands
California State Parks represent an array of natural, historical, and cultural lands, each with their own beautiful tapestry of history and stories – many of which only capture the European-settler perspective. This omission leaves behind narratives of the Indigenous and Black people, Asian immigrants, and many more who stood in these places long before they became the places they’re known for today. Parks California’s Untold Stories initiative aims to increase the representation of these layered histories, amplify their contributions, and use them as engagement opportunities to make parks more welcoming and inclusive.
Parks California, in collaboration with the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, supports park interpretative staff to ensure they feel equipped to greet visitors with dynamic tools to navigate difficult histories, foster dialogue, and spark civic action.
In partnership with the Yurok Tribe, we celebrated the renaming of Patrick’s Point State Park to its historically-correct name, Sue-meg State Park. The profound virtual event centered the voices of tribal communities who spoke about Indigenous land rights and the Yurok Tribe’s long-standing history Sue-meg State Park.
We’re preparing to roll out the California State Parks Adventurer App to provide visitors with the opportunity to explore interactive maps, park tours, virtual enactments and realistic renderings of historical park elements.
Reducing transportation barriers to parks
Every person in California deserves the opportunity to foster a lifelong connection with nature. The Parks California Route to Parks Grants program supports community-based organizations reducing transportation barriers and ensuring more people get to experience the joy of California State Parks.
- Route to Parks completed its second grant cycle in October 2021, supporting an additional 20 grantees.
- These programs, located statewide, are expected to serve more than 3,600 new park visitors from historically underrepresented communities.
- Route to Parks participants surveyed report that programs supported by these grants are creating a lasting impact on their communities. Highlights include:
- 48% of participants visited the park for the first-time
- 69% expressed a high interest in spending more time in parks
- 83% of surveyed participants stated their interest in visiting additional parks
Learn how City Heights Community Development Corporation, one of our Route to Parks grantees, is increasing access to state parks in San Diego. Watch their journey to Silver Strand State Beach below.
Catalyzing innovations to protect natural resources
In collaboration with the California State Park’s Natural Resources Division and partnerships across the state, our programs have initiated the ambitious task of accelerating and scaling resource stewardship to match challenges such as climate change, urbanization, invasive species, increased visitation demand, and more.
- Parks California partnered on the launch of California State Parks’ Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy – a set of recommended scalable, statewide tools to address sea-level rise and protect resources and public access for treasured parks.
- With both help from us and local partners, California State Parks in the Bay Area and Orange County are using game camera technology for wildlife monitoring to identify species within parks, which in turn allows park scientists to better understand wildlife populations and behavior – and how to best care for them.
- Core to our role as statewide partner is to scale local innovations. California State Parks has been testing innovative approaches to tackle invasive species in Bay Area parks. Through our support, park districts across the state are now receiving training to implement this tested approach for management of invasive species that pose a threat to park ecosystems.
Where Are Our Grantees?
Parks California works alongside nonprofit partners across California to support access to and stewardship of local public lands and state parks. We are proud to support our growing list of grant partners – some of which may be in your own backyard!
New Team Members
Growing the Parks California team in 2021 has allowed us to increase our organizational capacity, reach, and impact statewide. In the past year, we were happy to welcome:
- Business Operations Administrator, Teresa Evans
- Big Basin Senior Project Planner, Will Fourt
- Natural Resource Data Management Analyst, Gabe Griffiths
- Associate Program Manager, Grants and Contracts, Emily Henry
- Communications Manager, Alfred Torres III
We are working hard to strengthen parks by growing Parks California programs by 150% from 2020 to 2021. Of the total spent on our programs, 45% was allocated to access, interpretation, and education and 55% to natural resources stewardship. You can see some of these programs highlighted above.
*477,540 in in-kind communications donation removed from the totals.
Thank You, Donors
We cannot say thank you enough to our supporters and community partners for continuing to water Parks California. With your dedication, our mission to strengthen parks and inspire all to experience these extraordinary places reaches new heights every year.
Thanks to your support, here’s how our donor support blossomed in 2021:
- Individual giving total grew over 500% from 2020
- The number of corporate donations grew by 240%
- The total number of individual donors grew by almost 50%
- Donors giving at a larger amount more than tripled
Bank of The West is excited about our continued partnership with Parks California and their Career Pathways program. The program’s work with members of tribal and community groups to develop job skills while stewarding important environmental projects in California State Parks aligns well with Bank of the West’s focus on supporting employment opportunities and healthy environments.
Vice President, Head of Strategic Philanthropy
We are grateful to the board and advisory council for their support and partnership as we grew this year! Thank you for your continued support and guidance.
- Chair, Founding Board Member, Steve Lockhart
- Vice-Chair, Deanna Mackey
- Secretary, Tony Lillios
- Treasurer, José G. González
- Board Member, Rosie Clayburn
- Board Member, Michael Mantell
- Board Member, Dawn Ortiz-Legg
- Board Member, Kindley Walsh Lawlor
- Ex Officio; Proxy for Keely Martin Bosler, Director of California Department of Finance, Gayle Miller
- Ex Officio; Department of Parks and Recreation, Armando Quintero
Former Board Members*
- Teresa Alvarado
- Belinda Fuastinos
- Lauren B. Dachs
- Sharon Farrell, Founding Board Member
- Doug McConnell
- Woody Smeck
- Louise Stephens
- Sean Woods
*As of April 2022
Working with Parks California is the perfect compliment to my personal passion and professional career. I’m committed to the work we are doing to provide access to kids who don’t have access to parks in their neighborhoods.
Secretary, Founding Board Member
We’ve believed this from the start – creative, innovative partnerships will strengthen California State Parks for all people, and now this work is coming to life. Reflecting on 2021, we couldn’t have done any of this work without you. The groundwork we’ve collectively tended to over the past three years has now sprouted into real, measurable programs and impact.
As we revel in all the wonder of California’s extraordinary places, we’re stuck by the possibility that exists as we care for them and expand access to them. We hope you’ll continue this work with us as we plant the seeds today that we know will bloom tomorrow.