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Groups Seek More Diversity for National Parks, Public Lands

The ancient Petrified Forest near Holbrook is one of Arizona's iconic national parks. (iStockphoto)
The ancient Petrified Forest near Holbrook is one of Arizona's iconic national parks. (iStockphoto)
May 4, 2016

PHOENIX - A coalition of civil rights, environmental justice, conservation and community leaders is asking for more representation for all Americans in national parks and other public lands.

The groups are using the upcoming 100th anniversary of the National Park Service to start a change.org petition asking President Obama to make park facilities more reflective of all Americans.

Liz Archuleta, Arizona spokeswoman for the group Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors, said national parks have a wide variety of cultures to serve in Arizona.

"In Arizona, there's a couple of areas that are being looked at for expansion of the monuments," she said. "One of them is the Santa Rita Center. It's a union hall where Cesar Chavez coined the phrase '¡Si se puede!' and it's important to Hispanic history."

With the petition, the coalition is asking the president to expand access to public lands, historical, spiritual, sacred and cultural preservation, landscape-scale conservation, stakeholder engagement and workforce diversity.

In its vision statement, the coalition said the federal government also needs to manage and protect national parks and public lands that are being used by private interests for mining or oil and gas exploration.

Maite Arce, president of the Hispanic Access Foundation, said the coalition's focus is on sustaining public lands for the long term.

"Our work here as a coalition," she said, "is to challenge this president and also our next president to really embrace a vision for the next century of conservation that focuses on the importance of national parks and public lands that are for all Americans, with emphasis upon all."

Arce said it's important that diverse communities are part of the conversation when it comes to telling the stories of the national parks and making sure there are individuals on staff who can bring people in and make them feel like they are part of the country's public lands.

The petition is online at change.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ