Our Vision of the Outdoor Equity Program Collaborative

Our Vision of the Outdoor Equity Program Collaborative

Do you remember the Instagram Live with Monique Limón back in July and our blog post on Outdoor Equity where we were looking for community input in August and September? If not, take a moment to look back before you continue!

Since then, we have continued to make progress with several local partners and want to update you and share our vision for our local outdoor equity program collaborative. 

The Next Wave: Outdoor Equity

The conservation movement, also known as nature conservation, is a political, environmental, and social movement that

The Sea League
The Sea League Participants

seeks to manage and protect natural resources for future generations. The next wave of the conservation movement is outdoor equity. 

The movement to conserve land in the United States has included the creation of state and national parks, forests, and monuments; the movement has been both grassroots and political and is based on the idea that land is worth preserving. 

Collectively, we preserved natural resources in the form of public lands, but the use of the land is highly inequitable. People who use public lands are primarily white. There is a growing understanding that intentional effort is needed to ensure equitable access to public spaces. 

Access to public lands and nature has positive benefits. It’s a moral imperative to make sure public resources are accessible to all. Many states are passing legislation to make the outdoors equitable; states are now offering funding to make the lands accessible. 

California’s Outdoor Equity Grants Program

In 2019, The Outdoor Equity Grants Program (OEP) was established by Assembly Bill 209 (Monique Limón) to increase the ability of residents in low income urban and rural communities to participate in outdoor experiences at state parks and other public lands. OEP grants are intended to improve the health and wellness of Californians by connecting underserved communities to natural areas throughout California.

The State of California went through an extensive community input gathering process, which resulted in the Outdoor Equity Program. It was a complicated application process, which raises the question that it might create more barriers to organizations/community groups who are underrepresented and do not have the resources to invest in complicated grant application processes. 

In Fall 2021, A collaboration of 8 organizations presented a vision for increasing outdoor equity in the lower Westside and lower Eastside neighborhoods in Santa Barbara. Wilderness Youth Project submitted a grant application to the Outdoor Equity Program in October 2021 and will coordinate with the 7 organizations  to ensure youth and families in Santa Barbara have equitable access to the natural resources and public lands in our region. 

Local Community Input

The first step of the grant, and a requirement of being awarded funding, is that community members provide input on how they want to access public lands. The collaboration connected with neighborhoods (lower Westside and lower Eastside of Santa Barbara) over the course of several weeks through community tabling events, school presentations, school supply give-aways and personal interviews. In total, the effort gathered responses from over 80 residents in each of the two neighborhoods.

Community Collaboration for Grant Proposal

Wilderness Youth Project Participants
Wilderness Youth Project Participants

After gathering community input, the collaboration created a grant proposal that includes two categories of activities:

  1. Natural Area Trips (trips more than 5 miles from the community home base). Partners will provide transportation and facilitation.
  2. Activities in the community (activities within 5 miles of the community home base). These activities are offered through partner agencies.

The nonprofit organization partners involved and activities offered in the grant proposal include the following:

Overnight Events

  1. Los Padres Forest Watch (LPFW) works to protect sustainable access to and build community connection to Los Padres National Forest (LPNF). LPFW will offer family engagement with the forest by taking a cohort of 12 youth (teens) on 5 overnight trips annually to different locations. The youth participants get a perspective of the size of LPNF, which stretches from the Sespe (Ojai) to Big Sur and includes the Carrizo Plains. There will also be two annual family campouts at Skofield Park and Sage Hill Campground. This will be offered to both community home bases (Eastside and Westside).
  2. Just Communities is offering a 5-day annual outdoor community leadership institute; this program incorporates nature connection as a framework for building leadership skills for about 30 youth. This will be offered to both community home bases (Eastside and Westside).
  3. Legacy Project is offering wellness, healing, and connection through a regenerative multi-day camping trip for 14 youth annually. The organization formed after the murder of two teens on the Eastside. Mental Health experts and community leaders came together to build wellness in communities affected by violence. This will be offered to the Eastside community home base.
  4. Native Like Water, InterTribal Youth Programs of One World BRIDGE, is taking indigenous youth on single and multi day wilderness trips. One annual five day trip involves moving to a new location each day. Marcus Lopez, Resident Youth Mentor who is Chumash and Chicano, is connecting Outdoor Equity with STEM  through outdoor programs designed for indigenous youth. Programs are premised on reciprocity (modern science can learn from Indigenous knowledge and vice versa). This will be offered to both community home bases (Eastside and Westside).

Day Trips

  1. The Sea League offers ocean sports access through day trips and afternoon programming at state and county beaches throughout Santa Barbara County, including the Channel Islands National Park, to 40+ youth of color (primarily Black/African American youth) annually. This will be offered to both community home bases (Eastside and Westside).
  2. One Community Bridge is providing community based arts education through trauma informed care approaches with equity, inclusion and cultural proficiency. The One Community Bridge Project will coordinate a service learning and leadership opportunity by integrating a community educational activity for Eastside and Westside participants. This activity will infuse community outreach methods and civic engagement practices to produce an environmental justice community event. The event will be an opportunity for youth participants ages 14 to 18  to work with partnering organizations to produce an annual community celebration. This will be offered to both community home bases (Eastside and Westside).
  3. Somos Semillas (We Are Seeds) is a community garden program of El Centro Santa Barbara that provides space for place-based learning, public health, nutrition education, and community empowerment. The organization will offer a range of programs including internships, workshops, camps, and community events to connect 145+ youth and 173+ adults to nature and food systems and build leadership around environmental justice.  This will be offered to the Westside community home base.
  4. Wilderness Youth Project has been offering nature connection to youth and adults through in-school, after school, and summer programs to 1,200 individuals annually. In partnership with Title I schools and community partners, WYP will offer free Bridge to Nature programming (small group wilderness exploration for 4 hours per trip) to 500+ youth annually. WYP is also offering parent engagement opportunities (for parents to learn about and overcome barriers to accessing public lands) and a paid internship (outdoor educator/mentor to youth). This will be offered to both community home bases (Eastside and Westside).

Project Goals

Wilderness Youth Project Mentor & Participant

  1. Provide opportunities for community members who are underrepresented in the conservation movement to access nature via public lands.
  2. Provide opportunities to engage and train communities to advocate for community justice through community engagement events, internships, and other career pathways.

This project involves network weaving and will include regular (at least quarterly) meetings for the 8 organizations listed above to ensure all partners are engaged and have access to the resources they need to succeed in the grant program goals. The meetings will be open to the community to ensure the project continues to meet the needs of the community.

What’s Next?

We are currently waiting to hear back on the funding status of our Outdoor Equity grant proposal. The collaboration hopes to receive funding award notification by Spring 2022. Our hope is that the coalition that came together to envision outdoor equity for our community will continue to collaborate regardless of the outcome of the grant.

Want to get involved?

Contact us and we’ll connect you to the right people.

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