The Latino communities in both the High and Low deserts joined a diverse coalition of community leaders, organizations, and constituents in a multi-year effort to create the new Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow National Monuments. And as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial Anniversary, we can all enjoy the fruits of this labor.
To mark this milestone, events are being held in October and November throughout the desert to encourage local families and residents to explore these special places. The Centennial is a time to celebrate all of our nation’s public lands, including those managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service. These events include opportunities to learn about our California desert history, birding expeditions, overnight hiking and camping trips, stargazing events, and many more.
Public lands in the California desert contribute significantly to our quality of life, offering places to hike, camp, fish and more. Visitors to the new California desert monuments, for example, may experience the history of Route 66 in Mojave Trails National Monument, see plants and animals not found anywhere else on our planet in Sand to Snow National Monument, and hike among rocky peaks and Joshua tree forests in Castle Mountains National Monument.
This year is also the 80th anniversary of when Joshua Tree National Park was first protected. President Franklin Roosevelt conserved these lands as a national monument using the Antiquities Act in 1936 and eight decades later it is still a beloved destination for visitors and locals alike. More than 2 million people visited the park in 2015.
In 2014, I led a group of 100 Latino youth from the Coachella Valley region on a group hike at Joshua Tree. It was an opportunity to instill in our young people the important cultural, spiritual and historical connection we desert dwellers have with the lands around us. For many of these youth, the experience opened their eyes to the moral obligation we have to protect and preserve our nation’s public lands. These youth embraced their role as the next generation of environmental stewards and made sure their voice was heard in the recent national monument effort.
And this is why celebrating the National Park Service Centennial is so important. It is an opportunity to reflect on how our public lands contribute to our way of life and to recommit ourselves to protecting these places for upcoming centuries. That includes ensuring that our public lands reflect the demographic and ethnic diversity of our country and are welcoming and inclusive to all people — especially in the California desert where nearly half of the population is Latino.
I encourage everyone to take a moment, explore the natural beauty that is often taken for granted here in the desert, and understand the role you can play in preserving these areas for future generations. The first 100 years of protecting our nation’s public lands have been good; let’s make the next 100 great.
Pastor Frank Ruiz is a co-founder of Por la Creación Faith-based Alliance and lead pastor at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Indio.