But there are chapters in our nation’s story, including painful lessons we have learned on our journey toward a “more perfect union,” that have yet to be fully embraced and told. And those chapters can be best shared through places that memorialize our history for future generations, reflecting the rich diversity that is America’s greatest strength: engendering pride in all Americans.
The Obama administration understands that our spectacular landscapes, ecological treasures, historic and cultural sites don’t belong to a wealthy few, but are shared by all of us. Still, many people in our country have yet to feel welcome in these sites.
And as the country prepares for the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next, we are calling on all Americans — particularly those who are underrepresented in our public lands — to raise their voices so that the stories of our rich and diverse journey are told — today, tomorrow and into the future.
President Obama has protected more public lands and waters than any president before him. What makes his national monument designations particularly special is that he has protected landscapes and sites that came from the input of local communities. And based in large part on those requests, he has greatly increased the diversity of stories and sites protected by our public land management agencies to ensure a broader representation of America is honored and reflected in our system of public lands.
For example, the president created the César E. Chávez National Monument, honoring one of America’s greatest labor and human-rights leaders, recognizing the ongoing contributions and sacrifices of farmworkers. And he added important national monuments like Harriet Tubman on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Fort Monroe in Virginia, and Colonel Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers in Ohio, as symbols of respect and honor for the African-American story and experience — from slavery to freedom, dedicated war soldiers and heroes, and recognizing our nation’s first public lands protectors.
Though our work in local communities, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Outdoor Afro, the Hispanic Access Foundation and many others have seen firsthand what it takes to ensure that our public lands and waters are protected for the benefit of future generations. And the common denominator is young people.
By 2020, half of all youth in America will be of color. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2043, a majority of our country’s residents will be people of color. Yet an Outdoor Foundation study found that 73 percent of Americans who participated in outdoor activities in 2014 were white. In simple terms, the future of public lands depends on engaging and welcoming our diverse youth.
Our nation’s public lands and waters — whether they are iconic national treasures or local parks — should mirror the greatness of America, embody the spirit of our people, and celebrate our historical and cultural achievements.”
We’ve seen what a transformation looks like for youth when they first experience the great outdoors. At California’s Channel Islands National Park earlier this year, fourth-graders, largely from farmworking families through the Every Kid in a Park program, tapped into a sense of self-discovery after seeing a Channel Island fox for the first time — a species brought back from the brink of extinction that they had studied in school.
And in Anacostia Park in Washington, D.C., young people found a sense of pride by removing large amounts of trash from the river that runs through their own communities. And these young people left with stories to tell, a personal connection to the park and a greater appreciation for their public lands.
Our nation’s public lands and waters — whether they are iconic national treasures or local parks — should mirror the greatness of America, embody the spirit of our people, and celebrate our historical and cultural achievements.
We applaud President Obama for welcoming all Americans to their treasured lands and cheer the many groups and land-management agencies dedicated to ensuring that every American can see themselves and their stories reflected in these special places.
Now, it’s up to the next administration to build on this legacy, ensuring that public land protection is strengthened, stewards of these lands reflect the diversity of our nation, and all Americans can feel a sense of ownership and pride in their contribution to our nation’s journey for generations to come.
Sally Jewell, is U.S. secretary of the interior. Rue Mapp, is founder of the nonprofit organization Outdoor Afro, which seeks to build a broader community and leadership in nature. Maite Arce, is CEO and founder of the nonprofit organization Hispanic Access Foundation, which works to improve the lives of Hispanics in the United States.