Advocates convene in Sacramento for another successful Park Advocacy Day

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Yesterday, dozens of advocates from across California joined us in Sacramento for our annual Park Advocacy Day. Attendees learned how to activate their voices for parks, build relationships with elected officials and communicate a parks message to state elected officials and policy staff.

In honor of our 16th Park Advocacy Day, here are 16 highlights from this annual convening of members of our parks community:

Our Parks, Our Future

Our Parks, Our Future embodies the belief that youth, now and for generations to come, hold within them the future of our California state parks. As the theme for Park Advocacy Day and a message the California State Parks Foundation will continue to amplify, advocates used their voices to send a powerful message to policymakers that California’s state parks are important places that need to be protected and that all Californians should have the opportunity to learn, visit and explore state parks.

Hundreds of advocates from across the state told us why that matters to them.

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Through mail and online, we asked CSPF members and supporters to send their voices for why our parks, our future matters to them. More than 700 people responded, and we posted their letters for attendees to read and bring with them on their legislative meetings.

We started Monday with a floor presentation to John Roney…

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Monday morning, just as our pre-Park Advocacy Day workshops were starting, we got word that Senator Mike McGuire would be honoring this year’s Grassroots Champion on the Senate floor that afternoon. In a borrowed jacket and tie (to meet Senate floor dress code on such short notice), John Roney, park manager of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, received a Golden Resolution for his heroic efforts to safely evacuate campers and staff from Sugarloaf Ridge State Park as well as nearby residents during last October’s devastating wildfires. This commitment and dedication to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, its community of visitors and supporters, and the broader state parks world is why we named John our Grassroots Champion and presented park operator Sonoma Ecology Center with a $25,000 unrestricted grant to help the park continue to recover. Many congratulations to John, and many thanks to Senator McGuire for the presentation and also joining us at our Tuesday night reception (more on that shortly…).

…and ended it with a surprise toast to Don Cooley.

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Monday night, we invited team leaders and early-arrivers to join CSPF staff and board for a social hour, and raised our glasses to a committed park advocate. Earlier that day, longtime Board of Trustees member Don Cooley was officially named a Trustee Emeritus after more than 30 years of service to California State Parks Foundation. He and his wife Diane remain strong advocates for state parks, and inspired with their words about how supporting parks is one of the most important causes they can think of.

Tuesday morning, we welcomed advocates for the first time and the 16th

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By show of hands, nearly half of this year’s attendees joined us for their first Park Advocacy Day, like Aaron and his mom Monica who are already hoping to come back next year. We even had several attendees who’ve been to all 16. These advocates represented 50 organizations from across the state.

They heard from speakers such as government official Elmy Bermejo…

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The President of the San Francisco Commission on the Environment, with an impressive resume in both the public and private sectors, Elmy talked about a cultural and community perspective on parks, speaking of the power of storytelling in building and strengthening relationships: “Advocacy is also about educating people. You can rattle off statistics but stories are important. A story that is very personal to you, that touches you in some way, that has made a difference for you, is a very powerful tool.”

…Director of Parks and Recreation, Lisa Mangat…

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In a new format this year, Lisa Mangat joined CSPF Executive Director Rachel Norton in a conversation on the future of state parks. Rachel asked Lisa what she hopes the new state leaders our November election brings will understand about our parks. She answered, “For every clear running stream somewhere in California, there is someone who would rather bottle the water to sell it than sit along the banks and watch elk sip from the bank. For every iconic vista, there is someone who would rather put a hotel than find a place for people to rest and find respite and be rejuvenated. You really have to touch someone’s heart for them to understand that… this is part of a promise we’ve made to our kids and people before us that, despite what’s happening around us, we’re playing the long game and need to protect and preserve these public places.”

…and President of Children Now, Ted Lempert.

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Ted Lempert shared his expertise and experience as a former assemblymember and a leader unifying advocacy efforts for issues that affect youth – including park and open space access. He shared lessons for the parks community to learn from other movements, and brought a perspective of partnership between park advocates and youth advocates: “I see today as yeah, it’s Park Advocacy Day, but it’s also education advocacy. California is in the bottom five on math and reading scores, and we’re not going to get to [higher rankings] unless we think about education more broadly…like environmental education in parks. As part of today hope we can work more closely together and understand that education and doing right by kids and the future includes expanding access to parks.”

Advocates were briefed on key legislation and policy issues

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Traci Verado-Torres from TVT Consulting reviewed current pro-park legislation and policy issues, arming advocates with the information needed to succeed in their legislative visits. Leo Wallach, a principal with RALLY, provided an update on the status of Proposition 68 and what we need to do to cross the finish line and ensure it passed in June.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia arrived just in time to speak to advocates before they headed to the Capitol..

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Assemblymember Garcia, who is leading the charge for parks in California, was delayed by an oversight hearing for the Salton Sea, home to a state park. Applauding advocates for their hard work and dedication, he opened most of his time to questions, and was asked about park leadership in the assembly, how to effectively speak to his peers, deferred maintenance, funding and more. In response to a question about how to engage people on the issues of parks, he responded, “We’re seeing a revitalized interest in the conversation about the environment coming from a much more people-centric perspective. You’ve got great organization in that area to do the work that engagement and advocacy and the investments that are made are reflective of community needs.”

…for their legislative visits!

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During what was a busy day in the Capitol (our staff lost count of how many other groups we saw on advocacy meetings), our teams of park advocates managed to meet with more than 60 legislative offices to share their stories for access and equity in parks.

Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo brought advocates back together in a conversation on increasing community access to parks

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Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo has, as Assemblymember Garcia described earlier in the day, “hit the ground running” for parks in her very first legislative session. In conversation with CSPF’s Director of Programs and Advocacy Holly Martinez, Assemblymember Carrillo shared her advice for how advocates can use their voices: “Be loud, bold, progressive and unapologetic about where you stand. You own your power by knowing the issue you represent and not being afraid that when you meet with a legislator their job is to listen for the community they represent.”

The California Museum provided an engaging and relevant backdrop to our reception

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After discussing community access in the “Unity Room,” advocates wove through exhibits on advocacy, cultural conversation, community health and distinguished Californians, while making their way to our closing reception. The California Museum was a fitting setting to end our Park Advocacy Day, as an institution that works to engage, educate and enlighten people about California’s rich history and diversity, work that many of our parks share.

We honored Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher with the Legacy Award

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In addition to presenting our Grassroots Champion award, we also recognized Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher with our Legacy Award, presented annually to a legislative leader whose work to protect and advocate for California’s state parks is significant, visible, effective and inclusive. This award honors her success removing economic barriers to California’s coastline through AB 250, and her fierce advocacy to increase youth access and economic equity within our state parks.

The River of Words display showed us what the natural world can inspire

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Five young artists shared their work at the reception to illustrate the connections youth develop with our parks and open spaces. River of Words® is a program of The Center for Environmental Literacy and a part of the Kalmanovitz School of Education at St. Mary’s College of California highlighting visual and written art created by youth ages 5 to 19 to translate their observations of the natural world into creative expression. Several California-based winners and finalists in attendance showed how art is one way youth use their voices for parks and open space.

And many of you joined us on social media

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Thanks to the power of social media, park advocates across the state used their voices for parks even if they weren’t with us in Sacramento. By posting on social media with #OurParksOurFuture and following our live-tweeting, you helped amplify and joined the voices of our advocates working toward a California in which everyone has access to the benefits of our state parks.

15 highlights from the 15th annual Park Advocacy Day

Last month, we celebrated our 15th annual Park Advocacy Day in Sacramento. In honor of both the anniversary and all the advocates who joined us to support state parks, here are 15 highlights from the 15th annual Park Advocacy Day:

#1 Park advocates

119 park advocates from throughout California, representing nearly 50 organizations. We couldn’t start our highlight list in any other way, because park advocates are what Park Advocacy Day is all about.

For a handful of those 119 advocates, it was their 15th Park Advocacy Day…

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Including advocates Randy Widera, Barbara Lincoln and Jarrell Jackman, who’ve attended every single Park Advocacy Day.

…And for some it was their first…

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Like Nicolette, seated at the front left of this photo with her team, who’s been volunteering in state parks since she was in the 7th grade.

…Including our new executive director, Rachel Norton.

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As Rachel welcomed everyone, she shared why she wanted to join this group of park advocates as CSPF’s executive director: “The commitment to creating equitable park access, and to supporting and partnering with like-minded organizations committed to park access – that’s what drew me most to join CSPF right now. CSPF has always been working to make parks open for all Californians, to make park experiences available to all Californians, and to secure support for parks from all Californians.”

(Learn more)

Some advocates got a head start on their legislative meetings.

Advocates from California Outdoor Engagement Coalition had an impromptu legislative meeting on the train ride to Sacramento.

Senator pro Tempore Kevin de León set the tone for how important advocacy is.

“My name is Kevin de León, and I am the leader of a legislative body that upholds the Constitution of the United States,” he introduced himself. “Everyone is looking toward California. That’s no hyperbole. That’s no exaggeration. Many global leaders are looking to what happens in California. We can demonstrate to the world what our values are. That’s the strength of our state – the diversity, the inclusivity.”

We heard so many personal stories about parks, from Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher…

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“I’m really excited to be here,” she started. “My passion for our state parks, I think of it as outside my job. Anyone who follows me on social media will see that this is regular part of our lives. Where else can you as a mom cook over a stove and watch your kids learn to paddle out? It is part of my family now and it was park of my family growing up.”

…and Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation Lisa Mangat…

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“Everyone could stand up and share a personal story about why you’re here,” said Mangat. And she shared a bit of her own: “Way before I became parks director, [my father] kind of laid this foundation, and used the great outdoors to teach his daughters the kind of lessons you can only learn through the great outdoors.”

…and Myrian Solis Coronel, vice chair of the California State Park and Recreation Commission.

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Coronel’s multi-media presentation showed how parks intersect with different aspects of her life, and shared the stories of other women in REI’s “Force of Nature” video.

Advocates kept history alive with period dress!

While advocacy and legislation was focused on the future of California state parks, some advocates dressed in period clothing, reminding us our parks preserve our state’s history as well.

We petitioned the governor…

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We delivered more than 8,000 petitions from members and park advocates who couldn’t join us to Governor Jerry Brown, thanking him for his past leadership on recent funding for parks and asking him to support legislation that would allow California voters to support a new park bond.

…and met with 110 legislative offices!

We crammed 110 legislative meetings into one afternoon to discuss important state park issues including improving access to park facilities and amenities, maintaining access and protections for park lands and monuments, and increasing affordable access to California’s coast and all state parks. Some advocates, like Fadi, got an extra behind-the-scenes feel for the legislative process.

Youth advocates shared their experiences.

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Leaders from Outdoor Outreach and Sonoma Ecology Center Enviroleaders talked about how important it is for youth to have access to parks. Check out this video of Nate Howard of Movement BE, an Outdoor Outreach partner, during the briefing:

We honored Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia

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Assemblymember Garcia was recognized for his work promoting and advocating for California’s state parks. “Our state parks serve as one of the cornerstones of our cultural and historical communities,” he said. “[They] protect and preserve an unparalleled collection of culturally and environmentally sensitive features and ancient habitats.”

(Learn more)

And lastly, if a picture is worth a thousand words, this selfie is at least worth it’s own item on this list

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Assemblymember Ash Kalra takes a selfie with (L to R) Assemblymember Kansen Chu, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, and CSPF Executive Director Rachel Norton

Want to learn more about the 15th annual Park Advocacy Day? Read the recap on our website, or check out our Storify for social media posts from the day.