By Veronica Carter
As the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service nears, a coalition of civil rights and conservation groups is calling for public lands to be more inclusive over the next century.
The coalition has started a petition
urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order to make public lands more diverse.
Maite Arce, president of the Hispanic Access Foundation, says the coalition has the legacy of public lands in mind with this petition.
"Our work here as a coalition is to challenge this president, and also our next president, to really embrace a vision for the next century of conservation that focuses on the importance of national parks and public lands for all Americans, with emphasis on all," she states.
Indiana has three National Park Service units - the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Lincoln City, Indiana Dunes on the south shore of Lake Michigan and the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Vincennes - as well as more than two dozen state parks.
Arce says hiring a diverse workforce in the parks, in order to hear from diverse voices, is key to making public lands more inclusive.
"There's always been for many years a discussion about the difficulty in reaching diverse communities, but without those individuals working on these lands and for our parks, it's really going to be difficult to develop programming that reaches and engages different populations," she stresses.
Shantha Ready Alonso is the executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, an environmental justice group that represents major Christian denominations. She maintains there should be more protections for the sacred parts of public lands.
"Right now, too many places where there are petroglyphs, or we know that there are graves, are being ravaged and disturbed because they're under-protected and under-recognized," she points out. "We would like to see more reverence for those types of places."