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The Community Naturalists

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Freddie Portillo

“Growing up I was always fascinated with nature, but when I found out that not many people in my community really cared or were interested in nature it kind of made me sad, I wanted to show everyone else what they were missing out on. Eventually through the Naturalist Explorers program with Community Nature Connection, my love for nature was expanded. Working part-time for CNC, I had plenty of opportunities to get communities involved and exposed to nature. Eventually the Community Naturalist Leadership Program interested me because it seemed like a logical next step, not only because it gives people like me a chance to grow, but because it helps the outdoors become more diverse.”

Vianey Moreno

“My name is Vianey Moreno and I am the daughter of two immigrant parents from Oaxaca, Mexico. During my mother’s young years she took care of pigs, cows, goats, and chickens at her family’s farm, spending most of her days from sunrise to sunset outside. However, time outside was out of the need for the survival of her family, as she tells me, “Our animals provided us food and income, it was our way of staying alive.” When my parents moved to the United States, the meaning of the outdoors switched, we spent some weekends at our local park in order to get out for a few hours but that was all I knew growing up. It was not until my freshman year in college when I joined Community Nature Connection’s Naturalist Explorers that I learned of the natural world in depth. I discovered green spaces that I couldn’t have ever imagined were just miles away from home. I set up a tent for the first time and camped at my first national park. I joined the Community Naturalist Leadership Program in order to improve my professional and interpretation skills and grow as a community naturalist.”

Bryan Casarez

“I did not spend my early childhood surrounded by the outdoors. Instead, I was constantly surrounded by tall buildings, huge crowds, and loud noises. At the age of fourteen, my brother Andrew began to go camping and got to visit the outdoors and his interesting stories of nature influenced me to become interested as well. That is when I joined the Naturalist Explorers through Community Nature Connection. Since then I have gained memorable experiences that have had an impact as I grow up. Being part of CNC as an Outdoor Leader influenced me to join the Community Naturalist Leadership Program as I saw a great opportunity to gain even more exposure to the outdoors.”

Jose Garcia

“My name is Jose Garcia and I grew up completely disconnected to the outdoors. When I was first introduced to the outdoors, I fell in love. This exposure made me want to find employment in the outdoors and thanks to Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and Community Nature Connection, I’ve been able to do the work I enjoy. I want to improve my skills as a naturalist and that is why I continue to learn and find more opportunities for development like the Community Naturalist Leadership Program.”



Our collective experience captures what many of our communities face: a lack of green spaces, including public parks. Our parents share the life changing experience of immigrating to the United States for a better life, this transition made it difficult to find a place in the outdoors not only for them, but as a whole family. The outdoors felt completely foreign growing up, empty lots and parking lots were one of the few open spaces around us to play and be creative in. For some of us, exploring the outdoors wasn’t a tradition we did as a family, and as we grew older, there was a disconnection between us and outdoor spaces. Our families work extremely long hours, most weekends were spent traveling close distances. Some of us were lucky enough to have a local park and even these spaces were often unsafe due to gang-related activities. Some of us didn’t have the opportunity to go camping with our families or friends. There wasn’t a lake, stream, waterfall, or forest that was part of our childhoods that we can look back on and say, “I went there as a kid growing up, I remember spending my summer there.” There wasn’t enough representation around us to feel drawn into exploring green spaces, and we didn’t resemble your typical outdoorsy person. Some of our families feared traveling to government parks because they felt that they would be questioned about their legal status in the country. These are the realities and challenges we face and effect why members of our communities have been limited in exploring the natural world through outdoor spaces. Our stories of who we are and our journeys into park careers today start with the educational programs that introduced us to outdoor spaces and inspire us to share these experiences with our communities.


What is a Community Naturalist?

When you think of a Naturalist, you generally picture an expert in the the field of natural science or someone who studies the environment of a particular area. This is a pretty accurate definition of a Naturalist, but have you ever heard of a Community Naturalist?

A Community Naturalist is a person who engages the community they are from in outdoor spaces, teaching them about the environment and the natural world. This person has expertise in delivering an educational program to their audience that is engaging, familiar and relatable to their community--allowing their community to learn and explore in an open space because they feel comfortable there. Community Naturalists work with communities that have been historically underrepresented in outdoor spaces. They facilitate physical access and use interpretive programming to bridge the gap between their community and outdoor spaces they are not familiar with or have been exposed to.


Increasing Representation of Diverse Groups in the Outdoors

Representation of diverse groups in the outdoors is important because it encourages communities that have historically been excluded from participation to enjoy and work in outdoor spaces. The outdoors is predominantly used by populations who have the privilege to travel far distances, own outdoor equipment, have knowledge in navigating local, state, federal parks, and have ties to these parks from past family members. Therefore, as individuals who didn’t grow up having this kind of advantage, we find increasing representation in the outdoors to be an important movement that acknowledges that many communities have lacked access to the outdoors for a long period of time.

When we are able to walk into a park and see that a park ranger comes from a similar background to us, it deepens our experience as visitors, allowing us to feel that we do belong here and that we are capable of also having a similar career position. When we see someone who looks like us working at a local, state, or national park our communities feel welcomed enough to come back and visit, not to mention, it also encourages us to continue exploring outdoor spaces. As a result of the outdoor programs that Community Nature Connection exposed us as youth who come from underrepresented communities, we all have been inspired to gear our career choices towards those in the outdoors. It is through these outdoor programs that allowed us to see our first sequoia tree, waterfall, meadow, a night sky full of stars, and baby black bear. We are all working towards careers in biology, archaeology, wildlife conservation and astronomy. When we make progress in increasing representation of diverse groups in the outdoors, we are opening doors of accessibility for future generations.


The Importance of California’s State Parks

California’s state parks are important because they are a resource for communities all across the state to utilize for education, fun, relaxation, inspiration, and recreation. California’s state parks are dedicated to preserving biodiversity and cultural resources, along with “structures and habitats, threatened plant and animal species, ancient Native American sites, historic structures and artifacts.” California’s state parks deserve to be shared with everyone living in California. Everyone should be allowed to visit, learn, and be granted the opportunity to leave inspired to become a steward of nature. State parks are a vital resource for the diverse communities hungry and ready to discover their beauty. We are certain that there is an elder, adult, youth, or kid in our neighborhood today that has yet to explore the wonders of a state park. As Community Naturalists, we are eager and thrilled to be able to introduce our communities to state parks and teach them about the biodiversity and the cultural historical heritage that these parks hold. With countless opportunities for learning experiences at our state parks, it allows us as Community Naturalists to grow our skills and deepen our connection to the parks in our backyards that are an integral part of our communities.


Breaking Down Barriers: The Importance of the Community Naturalist Leadership Program

The Community Naturalist Leadership Program (CLNP) is important because it will help deepen our expertise as naturalists and teach us the skills to coordinate and lead programs that introduce our communities to state parks and outdoor careers. CLNP offers young people like us with an opportunity to develop our skills as interpreters. Programs like this support us in having a longstanding future in the outdoors.

The CNLP will also prepare us to connect our audiences to outdoor spaces and careers in a park setting. It is very difficult for young people from an underrepresented community to get jobs in parks, an experience that we are extremely familiar with. We plan to build a meaningful and personal connection with our community about our role as Community Naturalists so that we can illuminate the opportunities available to them in the same field. We also plan to demonstrate to our community that we understand the barriers that exist in accessing jobs in outdoor settings but that we have stories and resources to share.

Thanks to the hard work of agencies like California State Parks, Community Nature Connection, and the California State Parks Foundation a lot of these barriers are going to be broken down. We are grateful for the opportunity we were given and we hope that the knowledge we gain in the CLNP will be passed down to future generations.

The Community Naturalist Leadership Program is a multi-week leadership and career training program designed and implemented by Community Nature Connection and made possible by funding from California State Parks Foundation.


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