Some of San Diego’s most notable features are its breathtaking beaches and sprawling mountains. For many of us, it is hard to imagine living in San Diego having never stepped barefoot onto warm sand or walked along a forest trail.

A decade after the 2010 Parks for Everyone report highlighted disparities in available green space, many local communities still lack critical access to parks and outdoor recreation. Living in San Diego and not being able to experience the beach or mountains, or even the vast array of parks and green space, is an unfortunate reality for far too many children and families.

On October 3, The San Diego Foundation and other regional leaders participated in a community conversation regarding equitable access to the outdoors during Voice of San Diego’s Politifest Virtual Summit. The event, which featured our very own Heather Rossetti, Manager of Thrive Outside San Diego at The San Diego Foundation, provided an opportunity for donors at The San Diego Foundation to engage in community issues and learn more about environmental projects happening across the region. 

Increasing Access for All

2020 Parks for Everyone Report

According to the data found in the 2020 Parks for Everyone report, a trip from El Cajon to Ocean Beach that would take 20-23 minutes by car can take up to 2 hours using public transit.

“We know that access to parks is tied to well-being, transportation is tied to access to parks, which is tied to equity and well-being. It’s all connected,” Heather emphasized during the panel session when discussing the lack of access to vehicles or nearby transit stops for many in under-resourced communities. In 2018, a poll addressing access to the outdoors found that roughly 33% of low-income households in San Diego had not visited a trail or beach in the past year, compared to only 5% of high-income households.

Poor trail conditions and transportation gaps are some factors that contribute to inequitable outdoor opportunities for under-resourced communities. Other barriers to physical access include walkability, fees, permits and expenses associated with trails and parks, as outlined in the 2020 Parks for Everyone report.

Having not seen their family members from Mexico in over 15 years, the Navarro family walks 1.8 miles each way along a narrow, unkept foot trail, pushing their small children in strollers through contaminated mud and water to reach Friendship Park. (Photo by: Maria Teresa Fernandez)

Lesford Duncan, another panelist and Senior Director of Programs at Outdoor Outreach, spoke about cultural inclusion as a barrier for functional access. Unfortunately, outdoor recreational activities like surfing and rock climbing are activities that Latinx, Black and tribal communities in San Diego do not often participate in. For Lesford, the environmental justice movement is just as much about racial justice. “If our youth don’t see themselves as being a part of those environments, then they don’t recreate there,” he said.

That’s why Thrive Outside San Diego, funded by the Outdoor Foundation and the amazing support of private foundations, is so critical to change those trends. Thrive Outside is a network of nonprofits led by The San Diego Foundation and regional partners, working together to increase equitable outdoor access for all to enjoy the expansive beaches, hike the rolling mountains, play in local parks, and experience the overall transformative powers of nature.

Through this collaborative effort, leaders are pursuing solutions that increase access for all, including advocacy at the systemic and policy level for communities that do not have the resources to experience the natural beauty that San Diego has to offer.

Looking Ahead

Election season is a time for all San Diegans to prioritize policies, programs and candidates most aligned with our community’s goals. Particularly this year.

As Courtney Baltiyskyy, Policy Analyst with the YMCA of San Diego County, shared during the panel, “The gaps in services for children, youth and their families has never been more obvious and evident as it is now during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Nature is not an amenity but a necessity for the well-being of San Diegans.

Through programs like Thrive Outside San Diego and many others across the region, we can help increase access to San Diego’s beach, mountains and green space for all communities. Learn more about how The San Diego Foundation is opening the outdoors for all.