Curious to know if there’s a California park where you can go spelunking, wildlife watching and surfing all in one go? A new website launched on Wednesday by the Parks Forward Commission gives visitors a chance to see the parks near them as well as the attractions they offer.
The site is intended to provide more than just a handy service to potential park attendees, however. It’s also a strategy to help increase diversity among visitors, something that has been identified as a problem for state parks.
“While California has the largest state park system in the entire United States, the population that actually goes hiking or camping in the state parks is not as diverse as California’s actual population,” said Michael Woo, dean of the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona and a Parks Forward commissioner. “This app is one of several ways in which we’re trying to get information out there in our effort to diversify the audience of who uses the state parks.”
The site also features pictures pulled from the social media accounts of visitors to the parks. One of the site’s developers said that an important aspect of CaliParks.org is that many of the pictures featured on the site are taken by members of ethnically diverse communities.
“That has been identified as a barrier to park attendance in California, that diverse Californians think that they might not see people like themselves in parks,” said Jon Christensen, a UCLA professor and partner in Stamen Design, which built the mobile website.
“All it takes is for more people to go and share images, and those images will then populate the parks in the state and be that kind of representation and invitation of welcome to California parks for all Californians,” Christensen said.
A lack of diversity in park users was identified as one the problems facing state parks in a report issued by the Parks Forward Commission last week. The commission was formed in 2013 as part of an effort to reboot the state parks system after years of neglect and perceived mismanagement of funds.
The report called for a “fundamental transformation” in how the parks should be managed and identified the necessity of reaching out to diverse communities to connect them with parks.
Christensen said that since social media is widely utilized across ethnic groups, it can act as an integral part of showcasing diversity within parks.
“There’s a party happening; people are already in parks, sharing love for parks, and if we can participate more in those conversations, we’ll have succeeded,” Christensen said.