Photos by Rob Brodman
I had the fortunate opportunity to attend the Bay Area Open Space Council Conference organized by Breaking the Color Barrier alumna and Executive Director Bettina Ring to celebrate and reflect on 20 years of conservation in the Bay Area and beyond. At the capacity filled event in the beautiful Presidio Club House was a dynamic mix of individuals and organizations who shared a range of data and stories: from the good news of how the San Francisco Bay Area has benefited from preserving its open spaces, to the sobering reality of childhood obesity and other health problems plaguing urban youth today because of a lack of connection to the spaces in their own neighborhood.
Thus, the conference represented a thoughtful look back at battles won and lost, but also a look forward to what is possible through fostering new collaborations that stretch beyond business as usual. Over the course of the day, we consistently heard the message of how engaging underserved and diverse communities is no longer an option, but intrinsic to the ecological survival of all, echoing what is commonly known about the benefits of plant and wildlife diversity. Therefore this conference underscored a necessary shift from simply preserving acres to preserving the people who live on them.
Elizabeth Goldstein, President of the California State Parks Foundation shared compelling California State Parks data that proves that people care about their local parks “no matter their financial circumstances, background, or where they live,” she said. The across-the-board support of the upcoming ballot measure that begins to address a decade of repair and maintenance backlogs and threats of park closures proves this.
The health benefits of outdoor engagement were also highlighted by Daphne Miller, MD, who shared that in addition to the known physical health benefits, there are some in the medical community who believe that time spent in outdoor spaces is beneficial for those suffering from depression, starting with just five-minutes a day outside.
Also in the building were Outdoor Afro favorites Dr. Carolyn Finney of UC Berkeley, who moderated a dynamic panel of youngish adults, like Ernesto Pepito from the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, regarding the cross generation challenges and potential for collaboration, and Hazel Wong of The Nature Conservancy, who shared how the ballot is a powerful conduit to land, wildlife, and water protection.
New friend Laurie Schoeman also passionately related her experiences on the front line of the financial, environmental, and demographic hardships facing Bay View Hunter’s Point residents in San Francisco. Her silver lining is the recent opening of a green, community staffed EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park that came into fruition in spite of debilitating state funding obstacles.
Other conference highlights included a touching video retrospective of the Bay Area conservation movement, Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent Brian O’Neill (1941-2009) and Conservation Legend Edward Wayburn, narrated by Doug McConnell of Bay Area Back Roads. A concluding poetry reading by Poet Laureate Robert Hass wowed the crowd with poems authored by children. Those poems proved to us all how powerfully youth connect to natural spaces when given a chance.
Overall, the conference was profoundly engaging, bringing together friends old and new. I was delighted to hear throughout the day an echo of the message heard in Washington DC last month: connection and engagement with natural spaces is for everyone — and I am looking forward to seeing and taking part in next steps to make this vision a reality.
Photos by Rob Brodman