The proposed restrictions on dogs within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, including Ocean Beach, could have a significant impact on families who rely on the space for outdoor enjoyment. (Ben Margot/2015 AP)

Diversity at stake in fight over the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

As a Mexican-American who loves to hike and camp in the great outdoors, I’ve been to plenty of national parks where I’ve found myself to be one of the few — if not the only — person of color to be found.

It’s no secret the National Park Service has a diversity problem. The statistics are appalling. According to the last NPS visitor survey, 96 percent of visitors in 2012 at Yellowstone; 85 percent at Sequoia and Kings Canyon; and 94 percent at Mesa Verde National Park were white.

But as a resident of San Francisco, there is one NPS unit where I’ve found myself surrounded by an abundance of racial, ethnic and economic diversity: the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

For many urban families who
will never visit faraway places such as Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, urban recreation areas like our GGNRA are their connection to our national park system and the great outdoors.

The GGNRA should be celebrated as a model of what diversity can and should be like within our national park system.

That is why I am so disturbed by the NPS’s unrelenting effort to kick out people and families who walk with their dogs in the GGNRA. I don’t think a study has been done of the diversity of the people who recreate with their dogs in the GGNRA, but my observations lead me to believe we are the largest and most diverse group of users on these lands.

Since I’ve had dogs, I’ve had the pleasure of hiking with them at places like Fort Funston, the Marin Headlands, Sweeney Ridge and Ocean Beach. Sometimes, I take my 88-year-old Mexican-American father with me when he’s up for a walk; other times my 20-something niece and nephew, who hail from Mexico and Nicaragua.

We’re not the only family like ours I see on the trails and beaches of the GGNRA. There are other families, speaking to their dogs in a mixture of English and Spanish. There are Chinese and Filipino families, too, with members ranging from grey-haired grandparents to toddling kids. And what gets all of us outside — even on the rainy days? Our other family member: the dog.

Health care organizations are promoting dog ownership these days
for this very reason. It gets us walking more, which helps with high
blood pressure, weight and even depression.

You’d think the NPS would be thrilled with a recreational activity that brings diverse users into the outdoors and gets us exercising more than we normally would. Unfortunately not.

The park service is about to dramatically cut and in some places ban people from walking with their dogs in the GGNRA. Ironically, this is happening at a time when the park service has launched programs like #FindYourPark and #ParksForAll as part of its 100-year anniversary celebration.

I wish I could say the NPS knows not what it does, but a recent promotional ad distributed by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, which raises funds for the GGNRA, leads me to believe otherwise. The ad shows Fort Funston, the GGNRA unit that’s probably the most popular with dog lovers and most diverse in terms of visitors, edited into a place with neither dogs nor visitors.

Gone are the Latino, Asian and African-American families, as well as the elders and kids. Apparently, if the park service and parks conservancy get their way, the Fort Funston of the future is just a beautiful landscape with two seemingly white, middle-class individuals, enjoying what the parks conservancy describes as the “stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and 200-foot-high sandy bluffs.” The photo is promoted using the #FindYourPark hashtag.

As a Mexican-American, I find myself asking if I will eventually have the same experience in GGNRA that I had in Yellowstone and Mesa Verde. No diversity.

On the eve of the National Park Service centennial, we can do better.

Ruben Garcia lives in San Francisco with his wife and two Australian cattle dogs, Pancho and Marisa.Golden Gate National Recreation AreaNational Park ServiceOcean BeachRuben GarciaSan Francisco

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