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National Park Service Recommends Designation of San Gabriel and Santa Monica National Recreation Area

The National Park Service (NPS) has released the Final Study Recommendations for the San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resource Study. NPS seeks to "work in a coordinated fashion, on a regional basis, to address equitable access to open space, protection of significant resources, and interpretation and education about significant resources. Existing NPS assistance programs are currently insufficient to address these needs in the study area," according to the study. "I am pleased to recommend to Congress the designation of a San Gabriel unit of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area," said Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar.

Diverse allies submitted public comments to diversify access to and support for a new recreation area in the San Gabriel watershed and mountains and the expansion of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The final study is a best practice example for park agencies to improve environmental justice, environmental quality, and public health. The proposed expansion would go a long way to ensure access to green space and better health for park poor, income poor communities.

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As NPS emphasizes, "Many communities in the region ... lack appropriate access to park and recreational resources ... NPS and partner agencies would seek to improve recreational access and opportunities in urban areas that are deficient in recreation and park lands by offering assistance in planning for close-to-home recreational opportunities, better trail access, and improved public transportation options to recreational areas." NPS recognizes that "Children in communities that do not have adequate access to outdoor recreation tend to have higher rates of childhood diseases related to obesity such as diabetes." According to Scott Chan of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Obesity Prevention Alliance, "access to safe, healthy environments for exercise and recreation are crucial for all communities."

One big national recreation area would revive the Olmstedian vision of a network of green space from the waves of the Pacific Ocean, over the Santa Monica Mountains, across the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers, to the San Gabriel watershed and mountains and the Angeles National Forest. This would help restore a part of the Olmsted vision and the lost beauty of Los Angeles, and promote human health, active living, cultural heritage, and economic vitality for all.

The classic 1930 Olmsted Report Parks, Playgrounds and Beaches for the Los Angeles Region<br />

Expanding the recreation area to include the San Gabriel watershed and mountains can help get people back to work and strengthen the economy in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Latinos and African Americans have been worst hit by joblessness and drops in wealth. If you want parks, work for jobs -- and justice. "The NPS Junior Ranger program could be promoted for school-aged children" and youth, according to the study. "That is great," says Raul Macias of the Anahuak Youth Soccer Association. "Even better is junior ranger programs that pay the students and that lead to quality jobs, careers in park stewardship, and working with youth."

An expanded recreation area would meet diverse needs through a fully funded, balanced expansion that includes Transit to Trails, hiking, biking, and camping, as well as active recreation such as soccer, baseball and other sports fields, complete green streets with biking trails and safe routes to school, and joint use of parks, schools and pools.

San Gabriel River Trailhead | Photo by The City Project

NPS highlights the need to address Native American history and prehistory, early California settlement, and the rich cultural heritage of the region. According to UCLA Professor Judy Baca of SPARC (Social and Public Art Resource Center), "We would be thrilled to work with NPS, students, and SPARC to create public art and interpretive elements that tell the story of diverse California from prehistoric times to the present."

People of color visit national park land at disproportionately low rates -- but not because they do not value the environment and outdoor recreation. People of color care deeply about the natural environment, as shown by election results, polls and surveys. People of color vote, and they have made the difference in passing park and environmental measures. Diverse leaders will be working with elected representatives -- in Congress as well as at the state and local levels -- to ensure they receive their fair share of the benefits of public works projects like this. "Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles has worked for environmental justice including access to parks and recreation for decades," according to Mark Williams, Youth Director. "We look forward to working with NPS and elected officials to make the San Gabriels' dream come true for all."

Robert Bracamontes of the Acjachemen Nation, Juaneno Tribe, supports a national recreation area in the San Gabriel mountains and watershed. "The bankers and financial corporations have been saved. Now it is time to save the people and their land."

"NPS already demonstrates effective management partnerships with state, county, and local agencies in the Santa Monica Mountains. With calls by local stakeholders for a greater NPS presence in the San Gabriel watershed and mountains, visitors will benefit from enhanced recreational experiences, and agencies will be provided with more economically efficient management of the region," according to Ron Sundergill of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The study emphasizes five components:

1. An expanded Santa Monica / San Gabriel National Recreation Area that includes the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, portions of the San Gabriel and Rio Hondo river corridors, and the western Puente Hills.

2. Support for improved recreation opportunities, watershed resources, and funding opportunities in the Angeles National Forest.

3. Collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service to serve the needs of the people.

4. Technical assistance from NPS for communities, agencies, and organizations to support recreational opportunities, wildlife corridors, and outdoor experiences.

5. NPS and partners working together to engage underserved and disadvantaged communities in the opportunities for and benefits of outdoor recreation and environmental protection.

There are some opportunities to improve the recommendations. For example, the area should be renamed as the Santa Monica / San Gabriel Mountains National Recreation Area to respect the diversity of the place and people, rather than referring to the San Gabriels as a "unit" of the Santa Monicas. The Angeles National Forest should be formally included in the area.

Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis originally proposed the national recreation area in the San Gabriels -- and also wrote the California statutory definition of environmental justice. The final study offers the opportunity for both. Secretary Solis said, "I am so proud of the work accomplished thus far and look forward to working with all stake holders to see the San Gabriel Valley watershed study realized as a part of the NPS. The public will greatly benefit from this San Gabriel Valley jewel!" Secretary Salazar listened to diverse allies in preparing the final report.

The people of Los Angeles have the opportunity to expand the National Recreation Area to the San Gabriels to make green justice come true for all.

The final study is posted on the web here.

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano with members of San Gabriel Mountains Forever campaign at the San Gabriel River's East Fork | Photo by The City Project

About the Author

I am a civil rights attorney. Fighting for the simple joys of playing in the park and school field for children of color and low income children is the hardest work I have ever done.
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