Reflecting diversity in our national parks

California’s national parks do a good job of showcasing the state’s diversity of plants, wildlife and scenic beauty.

Now the National Park Service is making an effort to better reflect the human diversity that drives the West.

Then-Congresswoman — now Secretary of Labor — Hilda Solis as well as Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) supported a bill five years ago to explore sites a national park unit dedicated to Cesar Chavez and migrant workers.

Five sites — four in California and one in Arizona — were identified following the survey:

  • Forty Acres National Historic Landmark, Delano
  • Filipino Community Hall, Delano
  • Nuestro Senora Reina de La Paz, Keene
  • Santa Rita Center, Phoenix
  • 1966 march route, Delano to Sacramento

According to Ron Sundergill, senior Pacific regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association, the site that is ultimately selected would likely receive major attention:

“It’s fairly likely that sometime in the next five years those sites would be incorporated into the NPS. There is a possibility that at least one of those sites would be declared a monument by President Obama.”

Another idea is to create a Buffalo Soldier trail commemorating African Americans who enlisted in the U.S. Army following the Civil War. Some of these soldiers were also some of the first national park rangers. The trail would extend from the Presidio to Los Banos, and Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

The NPS is also looking to honor Chinese-American influence by creating a trail that would include places like Los Angeles’ Chinatown, San Francisco’s Chinatown and the town of Locke, which was founded by Chinese merchants in the 1920s.

Sundergill said this move to highlight ethnic diversity could bolster visitation to parks by minorities:

“The percentage of ethnic minority visitors to the national parks is less than their representation in the population. There definitely is a significant lack of visitation by Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans as well.”

The NPCA is starting a program called Roots and Wings to encourage urban youth to become more involved with parks, said Sundergill:

“The whole idea is that we’re getting minority young people into these parks and actually working in these parks, and hopefully they would feel an interest because of this amazing experience they just had, and maybe would prepare themselves for becoming a park service ranger.”