Martinez: Inviting all Coloradoans to our public lands (column) |

Martinez: Inviting all Coloradoans to our public lands (column)

Teresa Martinez
Special to the Daily

America’s national parks will celebrate a centennial birthday this August. And, in 2018, the National Trails System will celebrate 50 years, and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail will be 40 years old.

Together, our national public lands are celebrating many decades of providing Americans with outdoor recreation, breath-taking views and endless memories.

But while these national public lands are available and open for all families, regardless, there are some who are left out. Many people of color here in Colorado and nationwide are missing out on all that our national parks, forests, trails, monuments and wildlife refuges have to offer, which is why I have joined a number of other groups in calling on Pres. Obama to ensure that our public lands roll out the welcome mat to all people in its second century.

As director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, I know first-hand how important and special public lands can be for all who spend time there. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail was designated by Congress in 1978. Visitors can explore its twists and turns through five states, including Colorado; more than 3,000 trail miles crisscross the Continental Divide between Mexico and Canada. The route also includes some of the most iconic landscapes, trails, streams and open spaces stretching through 25 national forests, 21 wilderness areas, 3 national parks and a national monument.

For many of the same reasons our national parks were created, national scenic trails like the Continental Divide Trail were also established: to preserve for public enjoyment the scenic, historic, natural and cultural qualities of the area. Today, our national parks, forests, National Conservation Lands, wildlife refuges, trails and national monuments protect natural landscapes and wildlife habitat, as well as places with cultural and spiritual significance, historic sites, sacred burial grounds and priceless artifacts.

It is a shame that all of our minority children do not now enjoy and use these spaces to the same degree as their white counterparts. In less than 30 years, it is projected that communities of color will make up the majority of the United States population. It is essential that our federal land management agencies begin to develop a plan that will make our national public lands more inviting to and reflective of minority populations.

In 2015, more than seven million visitors enjoyed Colorado’s national parks, forests and open spaces. These visits generated more than $450 million in economic benefit. Imagine if we reach out to our minority communities with an invitation to enjoy the Rocky Mountains, Browns Canyon and Mesa Verde or to stand atop Gray’s Peak along the Continental Divide Trail — we could see a boost to local economies if all local families experienced and enjoyed our state’s natural and cultural treasures.

Imagine if we broadened the stories told and protected in our national public lands, so that every school child could learn about science, history — and their own heritage — in these living classrooms. Imagine if we employed a workforce in our federal land management agencies that more closely reflected the nation; our young people might be inspired to pursue careers in the outdoors. Imagine if we broadened the diversity of support for national public lands — raising our collective voices to advocate for action on climate change and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

As Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said recently, there is a need for a “major course correction” in American conservation. “We need to kick off the new century of American conservation by issuing a giant, open invitation to every American to visit their national parks and public lands.”

I couldn’t agree more. As the nation prepares to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, 50 years of our National Trails System and 40 years along the Continental Divide Trail, we should ensure that all Americans are invited to the party.

Teresa Ana Martinez is the executive director and co-founder of the Colorado-based Continental Divide Trail Coalition. She is also a board member for the Partnership for the National Trails System and chair of the Federal Advisory Committee aiding the U.S. Forest Service in the development of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.

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