A Win for Equitable Park Access
NatureTrack and Wilderness Youth Project Receive Nearly $400,000 through California Natural Resources Agency Grant
In a significant stride toward fostering equitable access to parks and nature, NatureTrack and Wilderness Youth Project have been awarded grants totaling nearly $400,000 through the California Natural Resources Agency's Youth Community Access program.
$400,000 for Nature Access
Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Seibel lead the state's Outdoors For All Strategy, which recently allocated a total of almost $18 million to 71 projects statewide. Notably, two projects in Santa Barbara County—NatureTrack and Wilderness Youth Project—received grants to the tune of nearly $400,000.
Santa Ynez Valley-based NatureTrack received $97,400 to support outdoor field trips for underserved, low-income K-12 students in the north county of Santa Barbara County. Older youth will be recruited from local colleges to work as trip docents.
Sue Eisaguirre, founder of NatureTrack said, “We are thrilled to receive this grant, as it allows us to extend our impact to a greater number of students of all abilities in north Santa Barbara County who may otherwise have limited or no access to learning in and from the natural world – where learning truly comes alive! Plus, we are committed to supporting educators by ensuring our field trip aligns with the student's classroom studies, providing a comprehensive and immersive educational experience. We learn from the teachers who tell us the trip which fits their curriculum best.”
Since NatureTrack’s founding in 2011, more than 35,000 students have had a chance to experience a docent-led outdoor field trip.
Wilderness Youth Project
Santa Barbara-based Wilderness Youth Project received $288,500 to support their Bridge to Nature program that funds outdoor access to nature and mentoring programs for underserved and low-income youth ages 7-17, and the funding includes the acquisition of a clean vehicle for adventure transportation.
Michelle Howard, Grants Management Director said, “At Wilderness Youth Project, gratitude is part of the fabric of our work, whether expressed in a circle of participants or in staff meetings. Giving thanks is as natural to us as the rocky sandstone of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the sandy shores of Butterfly Beach. We are incredibly grateful for the grant from Youth Community Access, and we hope that it inspires deepening support for local nature connection and access.”
Wilderness Youth Project serves 1,200 local children annually and this grant will support the subsidized Bridge to Nature school day programs and after-school programs at 11 local elementary schools and two preschools in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria (where the majority of students come from low-income families).
NatureTrack and Wilderness Youth Project have a longstanding history of collaboration on more than just this Press Release. This school year, NatureTrack lent its Freedom Trax wheelchair system to Wilderness Youth Project, facilitating the participation of two fourth-grade participants who use wheelchairs to join Wilderness Youth Project’s school-day Bridge to Nature adventures on the sand and trails at Haskell’s Beach.
]NatureTrack extends the availability of Freedom Trax devices to other nonprofits and private citizens at no charge. The mission of "Access for All'' resonates throughout both the work of NatureTrack and Wilderness Youth Project, and the impact of Freedom Trax has significantly expanded this work.
For the full list of awarded Youth Community Access grant projects, click here.
More about the Youth Community Access Program
The California Natural Resources Agency Youth Community Access Program, funded by Proposition 64, grants fund projects throughout the state, from San Diego to Siskiyou counties, bringing youth in underserved and low-income communities to parks, nature and places of cultural and historic significance. Youth Community Access projects include a vast variety of efforts to develop youth leadership while sailing the ocean, constructing trailheads, exploring California’s hidden places, restoring a fish hatchery and other activities that encourage getting outdoors. It is part of the “Outdoors for All Strategy.” The plan serves as a blueprint for how the California Natural Resources Agency and communities will build a movement and further momentum on work already underway — while partnering with key communities across the state to track progress and support future actions that get more people outside and provide outdoor experiences.
The Youth Community Access grant program is part of the “Outdoors for All Strategy.” The plan serves as a blueprint for how the California Natural Resources Agency and communities will build a movement and further momentum on work already underway — while partnering with key communities across the state to track progress and support future actions to get more people outside and provide outdoor experiences.
More specifically, the Outdoors for All Strategy lifts up six key priorities:
- Establishes spaces for people and nature to thrive by creating and maintaining more high-quality outdoor spaces of all shapes and sizes, especially in park-limited places;
- Fosters belonging in the outdoors through policies and programs that build a welcoming and inclusive culture;
- Connects people and the outdoors by improving information and transportation;
- Co-creates with communities through frequent and meaningful tribal consultation and community engagement, with attention to underserved communities;
- Builds equitable career pathways and a representative workforce by improving opportunities for all Californians to enter and sustain outdoor recreation, natural resources and restoration professions;
- Aligns funding to achieve Outdoors for All in partnership with federal, state and non-governmental entities.
Championed by Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and accelerated by Legislative investments and policies, the Outdoors for All Strategy emphasizes how state government can build on current efforts to cultivate an outdoor culture and workforce that reflects California’s diversity.
“Every Californian deserves to reap the mental, physical and emotional benefits of time spent in nature,” said California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “Outdoors for All is a declaration of the Governor’s and my commitment to mental and physical health—with a lens on equity, inclusivity and community — to advance our vision for all Californians to not only have access to the outdoors, but ultimately to feel pride, ownership, and belonging in our state’s magnificent natural spaces.”
California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said, “California is one of the most beautiful places in the world and our connection to nature and outdoor recreation is a key part of our identity.” He continued, “Yet today, not all Californians can get outside and into nature safely, affordably or comfortably. Outdoors for All is about expanding this opportunity to all Californians and providing lifelong outdoor experiences for families and underserved communities across the state. Today’s launch builds momentum to make this vision a reality.”
In 2021, Governor Newsom and the State Legislature committed $1 billion toward the Outdoors for All Strategy , including $500 million in grants to local communities for parks infrastructure and transportation and education programs, and $500 million to expand access to California state parks and other state facilities through infrastructure and improvements to existing programs.
Through the help and support of community input — and informed by feedback from advocates, funders, community members, and various government organizations — the Outdoors for All Strategy packages a vision for bringing government, private sector, and philanthropy efforts together towards a set of shared priorities.
“Outdoors for All is a movement powered by partners working together to create greater outdoor equity,” said California Natural Resources Agency Deputy Secretary for Access Katherine Toy. “Our public lands are civic and democratic spaces. As we foster belonging in the outdoors for all Californians, we build stewards who care for nature. In turn, nature cares for us.”
More about NatureTrack
NatureTrack is a 501c3 nonprofit that provides outdoor docent-led field trips during the usual school day for Santa Barbara County children at no cost to the schools or students, utilizing local trails and beaches throughout north and south county. NatureTrack’s mission is two-fold: to encourage students to embrace our natural world with respect and wonder, inspiring them to be stewards of our natural resources, and prepare school-aged students with the attitudes, leadership skills, and habits for lifelong learning. Recently NatureTrack expanded its mission of connecting kids to nature and is now connecting people who use wheelchairs of all ages to get out into nature using Freedom Trax. This device quickly changes a manual wheelchair into a battery powered, all-terrain vehicle which can easily traverse sand and trails. Now NatureTrack wheelchair users of any age can enjoy natural areas previously inaccessible to them using Trax. https://naturetrack.org. NatureTrack is expanding its reach up to San Luis Obispo and down to Ventura County with the Trax program. Thanks go to the grantors including: UCSB’s Coastal Fund, California State Coastal Conservancy, Parks California ‘Route to Parks’ grant and the Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund. And now, the California Access for All grant to expand the Freedom Tracks program up to North SB County.
More about Wilderness Youth Project
The mission of Wilderness Youth Project is to foster confidence, health, and a lifelong love of learning for young people and families through active outdoor experiences and mentoring.
WYP takes participants to nature: such as creeks, beaches, mountain trails, and open spaces in Santa Barbara’s abundant front country. Their adventures include child-centered exploration, awareness, and naturalist skill-building. They use a nature-based mentoring curriculum that combines experience in nature with a hands-on learning process. Participants play with WYP many times over the course of a season, deepening connections with themselves, the group, their mentors, and the places they go.