Senior Outreach Coordinator Celina Martina began at the Council in January. Martina said she is looking forward to building authentic relationships with key community influencers and working as partners with them and the 10 regional park agencies. A key goal is to help communities that today don’t visit regional parks become familiar with and secure in using the parks.
“We will introduce these communities to the amazing opportunities provided by our parks partners,” Martina said. “The interests of each community will be the driver of when and how we connect with regional parks. This is truly a community-driven effort.”
Research identified need for trusted connector to the parks
Council Research Analyst Raintry Salk and Outreach Coordinator Claudia Fuentes led groundbreaking research in 2014 to determine why people of color do not visit the regional parks proportionate to their numbers in the population. The three most common barriers identified included:
Lack of awareness
Lack of time
“People don’t know what they want if they don’t know what’s available,” Salk said. The researchers heard many stories from people who didn’t know about the parks. Or, if they did, they didn’t know what they could do there or if it was free to stay in the parks for a concert, for example. “’Are the picnic shelters for us?”’ Salk said they would ask.
Many participants in the study expressed the desire to have a trusted relationship with someone who could introduce them to the parks: the rules, the norms, and what kinds of experiences they might have in the parks.
Council commits to ambassador program
As a result, the Council made a commitment in the 2040 Regional Parks Policy Plan to create and fund a parks ambassador program. Salk applied for and received an internal Council equity grant to hire a consultant to meet with target groups and flesh out what the program would look like.
Martina will meet with groups to explore what interests they have and activities they want in the parks, and connect them to existing parks and programs. She also expects that parks agencies will be open to suggestions of potential programming that doesn’t yet exist.
2016 Park Visitors Study will help determine priorities
While new immigrant groups will be a primary focus in 2017, Salk and Martina will comb the results of the 2016 Regional Parks System Visitor Study to determine where the biggest gaps are in park visitation in terms of the regional population. Race, ethnicity, income, ability status and national origin data indicate who is and is not using the parks. As the gaps are identified, staff will be better able to set priorities for introducing people to the parks.
Martina has experience connecting people with places and programs through her previous work at the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and the Girl Scouts in Minnesota. She has both outreach and programming experience.
“Our sole motive here is to connect people with the parks,” Martina said. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy the beautiful places and rich programming that the parks offer.”
The regional parks system includes 54 parks and park reserves, 40 trails and 8 special recreation features. Regional parks are operated by 10 partnering cities, counties, and special park districts who work with the Council to:
Acquire and develop parks and trails
Protect natural resources
Provide outdoor recreation for public enjoyment
The Council helps plan and fund acquisition and development of the parks system; the park agencies own and operate the regional parks.