Adrian Hernandez had never seen the Milky Way. That isn’t unusual for someone who grew up in Orange County, California, where the lights obscure the stars at night. But under the dark skies of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, some of the darkest skies in the Lower 48, the Milky Way is a clearly visible blanket of starlight. “It was beautiful, just so many of them,” he said as he tried to describe his first impression. Adrian, also knows this: that the very region where he first enjoyed that sight is in danger of becoming as bright as a city at night because of potential natural gas flaring. “If this happens, people from #OC we cannot enjoy the #NightSky,” he posted on Twitter.
Today marks the end of the Hispanic Access Foundation “Four Stops, One Destination” tour of National Parks in Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. I was fortunate to spend the day with the group, exploring Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, the final National Park on their tour. They had been connecting with people along their tour and visiting places that helped them connect the dots about the impacts of oil and gas development on public lands, and about the need for Latinos to be engaged in efforts to ensure that the places we love, even if we love them from afar, are protected for future generations and for the health of our planet.
Jessica Loya, a UC Santa Cruz student by way of East LA, posed a question early in the day: “How do we get our communities to connect with the outdoors if they are from the city, surrounded by concrete?” That became the beginning of a conversation whose threads were picked up throughout the day, even as we were standing high upon the beautiful dunes. Lots of ideas were thrown around, and I am confident that she can be a catalyst to spark interest in caring for the outdoors, even if it has to start at a local park, or the botanical garden just blocks from her Grandmother’s house.
At the close of our day together, I serendipitously found out that friend happened to be the new Chief of Interpretation at Great Sand Dunes. An energetic Latina from San Antonio, Texas, Katherine Faz, who has experience engineering outreach activities for Latinos and Native Americans in the parks, took the time to meet the group. She went from student to student to learn about where they were coming from and what they had learned. She also had a heart-to-heart with the group about the need for parks to reflect the diversity around them — not just the people who visit, but also the people who work in the parks.
Today marks an emotional farewell for Adrian, Jessica and the other Latino college students — I am convinced that these adventurers will return home with greater knowledge about the issues that affect our public lands, and a greater commitment to be engaged in solving them. I am also convinced that the Latino community has much to gain from “Four Stops, One Destination,” and other programs that connect young people to the great outdoors. Adrian, Jessica, Luke, Joe, Roger, Lesly and Zoraida will go back to their colleges and communities, carrying the enthusiasm and care for conservation that will help us all be better advocates for public lands. Let’s do more of this!
— Rod Torrez