SAN DIEGO (CN) — Standing among California chaparral at the foot of the Otay Mountains in a San Diego neighborhood located at the U.S.-Mexico border, local, state and federal officials announced a park project promised to San Ysidro residents more than 20 years ago would finally break ground.
But what will become the 8-acre Beyer Community Park is just one of over 100 park projects set to be built across the Golden State as the California Department of Parks and Recreation announced Wednesday it has awarded a historic $548 million in grants to create or renovate parks in underserved “park-poor” communities lacking access to open recreation space.
An estimated 6 in 10 Californians live in areas without enough parks and open space, according to California Department of Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot.
The grants mark the single-largest investment in state history in expanding access to parks, with $153 million in funding coming from the state budget and $395 million from voter-approved Proposition 68 — the California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection and Outdoor Access for All Act of 2018.
Los Angeles County topped the list of grantees Wednesday, with LA-area cities awarded park 22 grants worth nearly $110 million. Alameda, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento and San Bernardino counties also received several grants each to build new parks.
The grant program comes amid the Covid-19 pandemic, when outdoor open space became the go-to gathering place for families and neighbors looking to reconnect safely in a setting least likely to transmit the virus.
“If the pandemic taught us anything it is that the need to have readily accessible and ample green spaces for the community is critical, it’s essential,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said during the press conference.
Gloria joined U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Crowfoot and State Parks Director Armando Quintero on a tour of the soon-to-be park which will include ball fields, a playground, skate park and other recreation areas.
It is located adjacent to an elementary school and middle school.
But the $8.5 million grant from State Parks won’t cover the entirety of the estimated $30 million price tag to build Beyer Park. So state officials recommended Beyer Park for federal funding as part of the Land and Water Conservation Fund’s Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership grant program.
Haaland said parks and urban green spaces provide access to nature for the 80% of Americans who live in or near cities.
“I strongly believe getting young people in touch with nature early and often is the key to building long term relationships between communities and their surroundings,” Haaland said, noting urban parks can contribute to federal conservation goals.
She added: “I was very fortunate to learn a deep respect for the natural world from my dad who made sure I hiked to the top of mesas, waded in icy cold streams and knew how to bait a hook. I want everyone to have the same connection to the great outdoors I was gifted.”
The funding announcement is part of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “Outdoors for All” initiative to expand access to parks and open space.
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