09.25.19

This land is your land, this land is my land?

What makes Boulder County special? There are many possible answers to that question. One of the most apparent would be the pioneering actions by the city of Boulder and Boulder County in preserving Open Space for future generations.

Now those future generations are the current generation, and officials are striving to inculcate a love of and respect for nature in today’s children who will eventually assume the mantle of stewardship. To many, the issue would appear solved. Go to any trailhead on most days, and you’ll see parents and children heading off on a hike.

But one thing has changed since Open Space was a new concept. Boulder County is more diverse than it was then, with Latinos the largest minority group at about 14% of the population, according to Census figures.

“In the late 1960s, early 1970s, the Latino population was maybe 2%,” said Richard Garcia, development director for the Latino school readiness nonprofit ELPASO. “I can almost say with a great degree of certainty that (many Latinos) don’t know what Open Space is. They may not know there’s so much out there for kids.”

Even if families are aware, they may not know how to access the space or may not feel welcome.

Rafael Salgado, executive director of Cal-Wood Education Center, said cultural differences can make Latino families uncomfortable. For example, Latinos often have large, extended families who like to get together.

“I have heard that sometimes Latino families will move picnic tables and put them together,” Salgado said. “The park ranger will say (the tables) belong where they belong. If you want to attract Latino families, leave some tables together. It looks welcoming to them.

”Latinos may not know some rules, such as the fact that people over 16 need a fishing license, he added. Bilingual signs would make such rules clear, as well as demonstrate that Latinos belong there as much as others do.

“All Latinos want to be really respectful of everything they do in this country,” he said.

Public parks also have a way to go in encouraging Latinos to access their amenities. Picnic shelters often require reservations months in advance, and many websites are in English only.

There can be a clash of cultures on how to use Open Space.

“Hiking is allowed, mountain biking is allowed, but (some) don’t want people picnicking there,” said Mara Mintzer, program director of Growing Up Boulder. “There’s no one right way of using it."

Growing Up Boulder works with children to gather their input into government decisions on the design of public spaces, as well as other issues. The organization recently released a bilingual map of things children can do in the city of Boulder.

Mintzer in early 2019 wrote an op-ed for the Daily Camera in which she discussed a clash over public land bordering Wonderland Lake. After surveying hundreds of nearby residents, both English and Spanish speakers, as well as nearly 100 children and teens, ages 3-18, Growing Up Boulder recommended the city of Boulder add a fishing pier, boardwalk and shade structure for the site.

More than 100 neighbors showed up at a public meeting to talk about the planned changes. Most were against the proposal, even angry about it, fearing it would lead to congestion that would change the serene character of the area.

Exposing young people to public land becomes even more important as more land is developed in Boulder County, preventing the kind of natural exploring that many kids engaged in during the 1980s, Mintzer said.

The good thing is that there is agreement on the basic goals, she said. “What’s funny underneath it all, most of us have the same values: caring about Open Space, wildlife, caring about our children.”

by Cindy Sutter