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Racial Divide In California's State Parks Could Squander Future Funding

(CBS SF) -- One of the best parts of living in the Golden State is the ability to enjoy over 1.6 million acres of mountains, beaches and valleys protected by state parks. But a new report finds park visitors do not reflect the state's changing and diverse demographics, making the future of park funding uncertain.

Last week, the Parks Forward commission called for "fundamental transformation" of the state parks system to secure more funding and attract people of color.

Latinos make up 40 percent of California's population, but from inside a state park, that number is hardly reflected.

"The visitors don't look like California," Parks Forward commissioner and USC professor of American Studies Manuel Pastor told the LA Times.

Parks are often located far from urban areas and public transportation with many lacking amenities like soccer fields and picnic tables that would appealing to families, the report said.

If California's fastest growing demographic doesn't see the value in state parks, it'll be difficult to pass tax measures to keep them open.

Gov. Jerry Brown's latest budget proposal includes $16.9 million to keep the Department of Parks and Recreation operating at it's current level. But with only $20 million slated for the more than $1 billion needed for overdue maintenance, the visitor experience suffers.

The National Park Service is also confronting the same issues of how to attract a wider visitor demographic.

In Ken Burn's 2009 documentary on the National Parks, Shelton Johnson, an African American ranger at Yosemite National Park, talked about trying to encourage more black youth into the great outdoors.

"How do I get them here?" Johnson asked. "How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here? How do I make that bridge, and make it shorter and stronger? Every time I go to work and put the uniform on, I think about them."

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