Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Outdoor access for all: California establishes new pilot programs to expand youth access to state parks

First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom with students from Environmental Traveling Companions. Photo courtesy of California State Parks Foundation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation to advance the state’s commitment to equitable access to California State Parks.

Championed by First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, whose California for ALL Kids initiatives support children’s physical, mental, and social-emotional well-being, the legislation establishes a pilot program to give every fourth grader a free annual pass to select California State Parks.

“Nature is a public good and a crucial public health tool. For adults and children alike, quality time in nature is good for our hearts, minds, and bodies,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “No state is better-positioned than California to leverage the great outdoors to augment our communities’ health and well-being — especially for youth in underserved communities.”

AB 148 establishes the California State Park Adventure Pass, a three-year pilot program that waives day-use entrance fees to 19 state parks for fourth graders and their families for a full year.

Earlier this month, the governor also signed SB 129, legislation that includes $5.6 million to fund the new State Park Adventure Pass as well as $3 million to establish the State Library Park Pass, a new two-year pilot program to provide state park passes to libraries across the state that may be checked out by library patrons to gain free day-use access to state parks.

"Access to nature is a crucial component to the health and well-being of our kids, and these outdoor access pilot programs set us on a path to expand access to nature and benefit children’s health," said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot. "I am very excited to continue working with the First Partner and California State Parks to reduce barriers and expand access to state parks for kids and residents from park-poor communities."

In 2019, the First Partner and the California State Parks Foundation launched Pathways to Parks, an initiative to bridge the nature gap and expand park access for California youth.

Since then, the First Partner has met with California youth, state parks advocates, and community leaders to learn more about the positive impacts the outdoors has on young people’s physical and mental health.

According to a recent report, 70% of low-income communities across the country live in nature-deprived areas.

Studies indicate that access to parks and greenspace can lead to improvements in childrens’ physical well-being, social emotional learning, and academic outcomes, with children experiencing reduced stress and demonstrating more enthusiasm for school.

One study found that every $1 invested in trails for physical activity led to $2.94 in medical benefits.

“With the leadership of the governor and first partner, California was able to create for the very first time innovative access programs for children and families to explore state parks,” said California State Parks Director Armando Quintero. “More diverse communities will have the opportunity to become part of California’s landscape, enjoy the physical and mental benefits of connecting with nature, and be inspired to take care of these treasured places for future generations. We look forward to the continued partnership with the Administration and Legislature.”

With 280 state park units, over 340 miles of coastline, 970 miles of lake and river frontage, 15,000 campsites, and 4,500 miles of trails, the California Department of Parks and Recreation contains the largest and most diverse recreational, natural, and cultural heritage holdings of any state agency in the nation.

For the full text of AB 148, visit https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB148.

For the full text of SB 129, visit https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB129.

First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and Armando Quintero, Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation with parks access advocates and students. Photo courtesy of California State Parks.

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