To celebrate the 4th of July, my partner and I took a drive to some of our region’s great natural treasures. We went out to the coast, through the hills of Napa, and then inland to the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Just south of the National Monument we climbed in Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve.
This hike overlooks the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, an area President Barack Obama permanently protected one year ago on July 10. The national monument includes public lands that stretch across Lake, Napa, Mendocino, Solano and Yolo counties. Home to bald eagles and herds of Tule elk, opportunities for hiking and camping abound in this special place.
On my recent visit, the expansive views of the national monument and the Sacramento Valley made the steep hike in hot weather worth it. We looked out at undulating foothills below a clear blue sky. We watched turkey vultures circle above and spotted small lizards sunning on the rocks.
In the early 2000s, I was a student at UC Davis, my first time away from home in the Central Valley. I participated in a program teaching the children of Latino migrant farmworkers in the nearby town of Winters. Driving from Davis to Winters on a county road, I never knew what lay in the hills beyond. But eventually I made my way out there to hike the trails, and years later as a teacher I would take students to explore the Berryessa Snow Mountain lands and learn about the plants and animals that call this area home.
This experience planted the seed for my life’s work – connecting the Latino community to the great outdoors. A decade or so later, I would be back to add my voice to the many community members who asked Obama to permanently protect the area for generations to come.
When he leaves office at the beginning of 2017, Obama will have a significant public lands legacy. In particular, I’m grateful that he has protected places that help tell the story of and engage diverse communities. Berryessa Snow Mountain, with its proximity to Latino communities in the Sacramento Valley, is great example of this legacy.
The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of our country’s residents will be people of color. Yet recent research shows that 73 percent of Americans who participate in outdoor activities are white. Clearly, there is much still to be done to engage diverse communities in the important work of protecting, using and advocating for our public lands.
This year is the centennial of the National Park Service, and it’s a fitting time to celebrate what our public lands mean to us and also recommit to the next 100 years of these special places.
I’m part of a national coalition of civil rights groups, environmental justice and community organizations calling on Obama to issue a presidential memorandum that focuses on the importance of national parks and public lands for all people. This memorandum should direct federal land management agencies to adopt guiding principles for a more inclusive approach to public lands.
Recently, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to make the case to White House officials for such a presidential memorandum. During this visit, I thought of the migrant students I served so near the Berryessa Snow Mountain lands. I return now to this amazing landscape and I’m grateful that, thanks to the president, the lands are permanently protected.
Now, it’s time to look ahead to the next 100 years and plan for how our public lands reflect, honor and engage all people in the United States.
José González is the founder of Latino Outdoors and a member of the Next 100 Coalition. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.