Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, June 30 @ 2:14 p.m. / Community, Education, Parks

State Parks Awards $700,000 to Del Norte County Office of Ed to Increase Access to the Outdoors

From left to right: Steve Mietz, Scott Larson, Jeff Harris and Erin Gates. | Photo courtesy of the DNCOE

For most Del Norters, the idea of not having stood underneath a redwood tree or traipsed across the sand at a local beach at least once may be unimaginable.

But for many students, senior citizens and those who struggle with mobility issues, not being able to access the national, state and local parks minutes from their home is a reality.

“We have kids who live in Crescent City who said they have never actually gone to the beach. Some of them didn’t know what a tidal pool was,” Del Norte County Superintendent of Schools Jeff Harris told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Thursday. “We asked some kids, ‘What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do but have never done?’ We’re talking eighth grade and high school kids. They’ve never been fishing, they’ve never been on a kayak, they’ve never gone backpacking, never camped overnight — we heard those kinds of things over and over.”

Because of those stories, the Del Norte County Office of Education, in partnership with Redwood National and State Parks and the Redwood Parks Conservancy, received $700,000 in state Greater Outdoor Access and Learning (GOAL) grant dollars.

Part of an overall $57 million funded through the California State Parks Outdoor Equity Grants program, Del Norte’s grant seeks to help parents become better interpreters; bring the outdoors into the classroom; embed nature-based learning in their Career Technical Education classes and help students, seniors and other community members experience nature through history, according to their project description.

According to Harris, the $700,000 grant will pay for one employee from RNSP who will be paired with an employee from the County Office of Education who will be working out of the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods. They will run two different programs, one that provides parents with information and resources on kid-friendly parks to take their youngsters to.

The second program will consist of developing environmental education, including leadership, conservation and stewardship and incorporating that into a mobile classroom that will visit schools throughout Del Norte, Harris said. He compared it to visiting one of Redwood National and State Parks’ visitors centers and said the DNCOE agreed to contribute $100,000 toward purchasing the van that will house the classroom.

But the grant will fund even broader programs, Harris said, though much of what that will look like is still to be determined. The DNCOE’s goal is to get the programs up and running by late August or early September. Harris said county education officials are also working with the Redwood Parks Conservancy and Redwood National and State Parks officials to be able to fund the programs beyond the grant’s sunset date in three years.

“It’s designed for all community members — students, families, multi-generational groups, senior citizens — to go out and to experience local, state and national parks,” Harris said. “There’s a broad variety of things like biking, fishing, hiking, art in the park. Just all kinds of things — beach cleanups. There are some (Career Technical Education) connections for getting kids who’ve gone through CTE programs to understand the jobs available in state and national parks behind the scenes. So, there’s just a huge broad variety of bits and pieces.”

Trips include visiting the Howland Hill Outdoor School, holding a beach cleanup at South Beach and Crescent Beach and exploring the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, Tolowa Dunes State Park and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

Other proposed activities include holding an Art in the Park program at the county’s Florence Keller Park, Camping 101 at Redwood National and State Parks and Sue-Meg State Park, Fishing 101 on the Smith River and getting youth involved in the North Coast Junior Lifeguard Program at Enderts Beach and South Beach.

According to Erin Gates, deputy superintendent for Redwood National and State Parks, this grant will allow RNSP to better utilize the Howland Hill Outdoor School. It will also serve as a direct link for students to careers within RNSP, giving them to learn some skills necessary to work in their own parks.

Plus, partnering with the California State Parks' junior lifeguard program boosts aquatic safety skills for local youth, Gates said.

"We don't have nice mellow beaches like Southern California so it's good for the local community to be more water aware," she said. "The junior lifeguard program already offers two summer-based programs in Del Norte in August. This grant could allow for scholarships for local youth to apply for it so they could have all the fees (paid) to be part of the junior lifeguard program."

One thing that some Del Norte County residents may take for granted is the ability hike into some of the community’s more remote locations, Harris said. With state and national park employees partnering with the DNCOE to obtain the GOAL grant, they can provide access to senior citizens and folks with mobility issues to places they might never get to see otherwise, Harris said.

“We all think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s the first grant like this, according to the National Park people. The first grant of this kind that’s ever been awarded in Del Norte County.”

Gates said the same thing, noting that about five minutes from Downtown Crescent City is Tolowa Dunes State Park and the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, one of the most biodiverse places in California. Five minutes to the east is the Smith River, that's designated Wild and Scenic and is one of the cleanest streams in the U.S.

"How much of our community is able ot take part in it and not only recreate in these lands, but learning how they could be stewards of these lands?" Gates said.

After more than two years of hunkering down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Redwood National and State Parks is experiencing some of the highest visitation levels it's ever seen, Gates said. But, she said she's most excited that the GOAL grant will help get locals insice the parks that surround their community.

California State Parks awarded 125 Outdoor Equity Grants to communities across the Golden State. According to its website, Outdoor Equity Grants seeks to establish hubs for local activities and trips to natural areas for underserved communities.


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