Celebrating National Public Lands Day

Like millions of others, I am developing a newfound appreciation for the outdoors, but access to nature does not look the same for everyone.

Credit: photo: Diane Sanchez

Our Forests Belong to You and Me

To celebrate National Public Lands day on September 26, I am honored to share a story from one of my NRDC colleagues, Diane Sanchez.

This summer, like millions of others, I “escaped” to nature, visiting Big Bear Lake located in the San Bernardino National Forest. I traveled to the lake to enjoy the beauty and benefits of nature. During my visit, I experienced a sense of peace while out on the lake. I developed an appreciation for natural landscapes while on a hike. At the end of my trip, I asked myself why I don't visit the forest more often. 

Big Bear is only an hour and a half from my house in Orange County, California, but this was only my second time visiting the San Bernardino National Forest. Like millions of others, I am developing a newfound appreciation for the outdoors, but access to nature does not look the same for everyone. Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) have been systemically deprived of our rights to access nature.

“Historically, the United States has systematically segregated and excluded people of color from public lands and other natural places,” reports recent analysis by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress. But our country’s public lands belong to everyone. Each and every one of us not only has the right to visit and enjoy National Forests, but we each have a right to participate in the making of forest management policy, and help influence the way our government carries out its role as a steward of these lands. A growing number of wonderful groups are actively promoting access for Black Indigenous People of Color. Groups like: Outdoor Afro, Youth Outside and Latino Outdoors. Check them out!

As increasing and competing demands are made on our national forests, planning to accommodate these various interests is critical to the long-term health of the forests and the communities that depend upon them. I recently helped put together a toolkit for new forest users like me to get involved in shaping what the future of the forests that I care about looks like. The U.S. Forest Service put new rules in place that take into account social and economic sustainability, as well as ecological health. It is up to people like me to talk about the future we want and how we want our forests to fit into it. You might enjoy a new documentary film, Public Trust, produced by NRDC Trustee Robert Redford that talks about what's at stake if we let others take control of our public lands.

This summer, I made an extra effort to visit Big Bear Lake. During my trip, I sat alone along the edge of the lake and felt a sense of tranquility while taking in the scenic views around me. I encourage everyone to make the same effort to experience what nature can provide for you and to participate in the sustainable management of the forests you care about. 

Credit: photo: Diane Sanchez
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