By Felipe Benítez
September 22 marks the 25th National Public Lands Day, the largest, all-volunteer event focused on restoring America’s public lands. Hundreds of thousands of individuals and volunteer organizations from all across the country team up with the National Environmental Education Foundation, and a variety of public lands agencies, on projects and activities that help with the maintenance, restoration, and improvement of public lands.
At Corazón Latino, we too are invested in social, environmental, and conservation initiatives that foster natural resource stewardship. We also believe in the power of the Latino community and the incredible passion that we share when it comes to protecting the environment. It is no secret that Latinos have a deep and cultural connection to the great outdoors. A number of recent environmental polls and studies underscore a strong commitment to conservation and the preservation of our public lands.
In fact, 83% of Hispanics consider contact with nature to be important to their health and emotional outlook according to The Nature of Americans, a study by DJ Case and associates. The study also found that adult Americans of different races and ethnicities tend to value nature in similar ways and associate certain smells and sounds of nature with happy memories. Most indicated finding peace and a spiritual connection to something greater when outdoors.
Our public lands need help and attention so that we all have safe and enjoyable open spaces to visit by ourselves or with our friends and families. Extreme weather, natural disasters, negative human activities and other factors, take a toll on our public lands. Volunteers are needed to support the public land managers and stewards of these special places to ensure their resiliency, which in turn, helps ensure the health and wellbeing of the people and wildlife who depend on healthy ecosystems.
Public lands also provide direct financial benefits to our local and national economies. According to the Nature Conservancy, investing in parks and green spaces is very worthwhile. Access to green spaces and the ability to enjoy the outdoors could help the United States avoid annual costs of up to $11.7 billion in health care and up to $928 million in crime-related expenses. Restoring and maintaining our local parks and green spaces also provides Latino, underserved, and urban communities with increased access to the outdoors, which creates a stronger sense of community and leads to a healthier population.
It is my hope that Latinos everywhere will take up this cause and make plans to head to a favorite outdoor spot on National Public Lands Day and give back to nature on September 22, 2018. Entrance fees are waived on all public lands on that day to make it possible for everyone to participate. You can learn more about National Public Lands Day and find an event near you at https://www.neefusa.org/npld.
*Felipe Benitez, Executive Director of Corazón Latino, a non-profit organization that mobilizes diverse communities around environmental and public health issues and solutions and promotes conservation education, civic engagement, and social justice.