The continued heavy pressure on park agencies as an essential service and limited staffing coupled with the out of massive control fires in the west is not sustainable without a greater investment in public lands stewardship
As one of the largest employers of youth in the East Bay, the East Bay Regional Park District supports recent Federal legislation to expand national service jobs programs. Two bills specifically will help large land management agencies, like the Park District, address the challenge of managing large urban forests safely to avoid catastrophic wildfire.
The Cultivating Opportunity and Response to the Pandemic through Service (CORPS) Act (referred to in an opinion piece on Sept. 4) and the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs bills will fund job corps teams in urban areas with high youth unemployment to assist with important and necessary work benefitting the community while receiving lifelong learning and marketable job skills.
In addition to fire-related funding in the 21st CCC legislation, the CORPS Act would help address the challenges experienced by park agencies during the pandemic. Given the limited options for essential outdoor activity, park visitation has surged well beyond the expected annual increase as observed over the last 86 years. The Park District continues to invest in the necessary work to keep parks open and safe for communities of the East Bay and greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Recent Park District commissioned surveying revealed 96 percent of East Bay respondents believe accessibility to parks and trails has been significantly important for maintaining the mental and physical health of East Bay communities during this pandemic. Additionally, 89 percent of respondents supported providing safe, outdoor jobs for youth.
The Park District has historically provided the largest number of jobs for youth in the East Bay at nearly 400 positions per year. Expanding national service opportunities through AmeriCorps and other programs can provide East Bay youth jobs for a variety of important functions. EBRPD is currently working with the Student Conservation Association to repair, maintain and improve the more than 1,330 miles of trails within the district’s trail network. Projects for the preservation of natural habitats and expansion of accessible recreation areas continue to move forward across the two-county jurisdiction – investing in the local economy and supporting a variety of jobs.
The work of the East Bay Regional Park District and East Bay communities would all directly and indirectly benefit from additional national service jobs.
When asked if parks are an essential service during a pandemic, 89 percent of respondents said yes. Parks have always been important, but never so much as now. Parks and other public lands have remained largely open during the pandemic and will still be there after COVID-19. Proper and ongoing stewardship of public lands, particularly with extreme weather and climate change, is as important now as ever and will continue to be more so in the future.
The CORPS Act and the 21st Century Conservation Corps legislation would benefit jobs, the economy, parks, and our communities at a crucial time.
Let’s invest in the health of our community and our young people by providing jobs -- environmentally, through parks and national service.
((ITAL))Robert Doyle is general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District. Doyle has been with the Park District since 1975 and has served as General Manager since 2011. The East Bay Regional Park District is the largest park district of its kind in the United States with 73 regional parks on over 130,000 acres of open space.((ITAL))