Access To Nature For All

Increasing And Improving The Availability Of Meaningful Nature And Wildlife Experiences

Posted on: January 27th, 2021

Sheltering-in-Place Blog Entry #40

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.”
Edward Abbey

Sunsets at Little Harbor, Catalina Island, are simply spectacular. Access to this site is difficult for many island residents.

The gentleman stood quietly away from the crowd of kids playing in the golden light of the sunset. He leaned against a large driftwood tree watching the sun dropping over the ocean. I walked towards him and stood by his side for a minute, enjoying the beautiful light reflecting on the small waves of Little Harbor, a beautiful bay on the ocean side of Catalina Island. Families started packing their belongings behind us after spending the afternoon exploring, playing, cooking, and sharing on one of the most beautiful island beaches in Southern California.

A few weeks before, my education team and I had launched a program called Families in Nature. We were living and working in Catalina Island, one of the eight Channel Islands and the only one with a sizable (around 4,000) resident civilian population, the majority of them living in Avalon. Most of the island — 86% of it — was a nature preserve owned and managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy, a land trust established many years ago to preserve this unique ecosystem’s wild and open spaces.

The Families in Nature program of the Catalina Island Conservancy started in 2009 and continues today. Here, biologist Steffanie Jijón talks to families about the ecology and conservation of golden eagles.

Avalon’s resident population consisted of a mixture of multigenerational residents of both Mexican and US ancestry plus a newer generation of business owners, professionals of all kinds, workers, teachers, healthcare workers, and quite a few musicians. Avalon was the delicately balanced tourism industry hub, receiving close to a million visitors every year. Many of them paid to visit the island’s preserved interior via bus and jeep tours, bike tours, or hiking. These interior visits were not cheap but provided a sustaining revenue to the Conservancy to manage the wildlife, flora, campgrounds, and other infrastructure and programs. For a resident to access the interior, they needed a paid membership to the Conservancy, a vehicle capable of navigating the island’s often-rough dirt roads, and time. 

I asked the gentleman if he had enjoyed the visit to Little Harbor. He nodded silently.

“How long have you lived on the Island?” I asked.

“All my life,” he said. “I came here from Mexico with my parents when I was a teenager.” I figured he was about 50 years old now.

Then, he said something that left me speechless.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a sunset on the island.”

Exploring the amazing world of native plant seeds during a visit to the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Native Plant Nursery, during one of the Families in Nature outings.

I was stunned. I suddenly realized that without a car or money to spend on tours and holding two or even three jobs, many residents of the Island, especially those with kids, could not afford to visit this beautiful beach or any of the many historic and extraordinarily scenic areas that tourists see every day. His island home’s unique nature was out of reach to a large portion of the resident population. The Families in Nature idea struck a deep chord with these families and became a signature diversity and equity project for this long-standing nonprofit. Funded by sponsorships and small grants, the program has endured for almost a decade and continues to provide low-income resident families with access to the island’s rich ecosystems.

Many of us take access to nature and wildlife knowledge for granted. California and the Bay Area are fortunate to have many natural areas and outdoor venues where access is free of charge. However, with the exception of a few public museums in large metropolitan areas, experiencing the educational programs available in these educational facilities often requires memberships or entrance fees, which start to add up when families are involved.

Example of a museum with entrance fees and membership information.

A couple of years ago, I visited a well-known and excellent aquarium in California. We didn’t have a membership at the time, so we planned to buy the day pass, enjoy the exhibits, and have a bit of lunch at one of the seaside restaurants. The bills started to pile up at the available parking lots. A stiff $35 cash fee was the norm, and spaces were challenging to find. After finding a spot and paying in advance for the few hours we had, we stood in line for 15 minutes or so and scanned the process for admission. I made some top-of-the-head calculations. An adult ticket for the day was $40. Children and teens were $25 to $35, and seniors $25. So, a family of 5 (mom, dad, grandma, and two kids) would shell out $155 just to get in the exhibits. Lunch cost us about $30 (two small seafood fast-food orders, eating while standing on a boardwalk, sharing a drink). Not counting the gas for the car or small gifts we purchased at the aquarium’s store, we spent $145 for the two of us. Our fictitious family of five would have spent over $225, not counting gas or gifts, for a morning of ocean education and excitement. For many families, this is quite unaffordable.

Seeing a Purple-stripe jelly up close allows the imagination to put you in the ocean, swimming with these extraordinary creatures. They are mesmerizing.

It is crucial to say here that zoos, aquariums, and museums are an essential component of informal public education and recreation. Many of them are run by local governments, but most are owned and managed by nonprofit organizations. Charging entrance and program fees is a necessary part of running, upkeeping, and upgrading these facilities. Memberships help keep the costs down for visitors and most facilities offer special pricing and even some free days for local residents and schools in lower-income areas. But in general, the benefits of learning and enjoying a day at a museum, zoo, or aquarium and making these visits a regular part of family life is restricted to those who can afford it, leaving many of our low-income families wanting.

Lindsay is committed to expanding access to our programs and exhibits to all families in our area and offering no-cost and low-cost onsite and online programs. Since the cost of developing and delivering programs and upgrading and maintaining facilities is not trivial, we seek to partner with foundations and corporations to create special funds to bring our programs to everyone, regardless of economic level.

Early concept of the Lindsay Mobile Nature Center. In the next few months, we’ll refine the concept and create a prototype.

One of the concepts we’re working on this year is the Mobile Lindsay Wildlife Experience (tentative title). This traveling interpretive center would regularly visit communities during special events, weekends, and holidays, bringing our unique brand of animal-based programs to people’s neighborhoods. The center would include several of our charismatic animal ambassadors and exhibits, items from our extensive nature specimen collection, and merchandise to purchase. Currently in the design and fundraising stage, we hope to test and roll out the first of these Mobile Lindsay’s in late 2021.

Our extensive set of education programs is also an opportunity for corporations and foundations to sponsor. Courtesy and merit memberships to Lindsay would make Lindsay’s programs available to low-income families through our community of partners and donors’ generosity. Providing scholarships to local teenagers to our fee-based Outstanding Wildlife Leaders (OWLs) and Keepers In Training (KITs) is also one of our goals for this year.

We will continue to develop more initiatives to provide access so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of fostering and developing a better relationship with wildlife and nature. We also welcome your ideas and suggestions for how to make our programs more accessible to all. Through education and positive experiences with wildlife, we can learn to be better stewards of nature and lift ourselves above the barriers of limited resources and access to knowledge.

You are never too young to start enjoying the world of birds.

I’ll leave you today with another quote…

“We won’t let poverty kill educational access & opportunities.
We’ll kill poverty through education.”
Sharad Vivek Sagar

 Sharad is an Indian youth icon, a globally renowned entrepreneur, and a 21st-century leader whose words and work in education and public service are inspiring a generation.


The following links provide additional information and downloadable articles about the goals, importance, and methods for achieving environmental literacy and improving access to important environmental concepts, activities, and experiences for all.

  A blueprint for environmental literacy

  Environmental education outcomes for conservation

  Strategies to Improve Access to the General Education Curriculum

We can’t wait to welcome back our visitors to Lindsay’s exhibits and programs.
  • I enjoy all your blog posts, Carlos, but this one is music to my ears. Being at LWE is my “happy place” and I love working here, but I’ve always been troubled that we are stuck in the “Central County bubble” seeing mostly affluent families from the immediate area. I believe having the Mobile Lindsay Wildlife Experience is a superb idea! If there is anything I can do to help that along, let me know!!

  • Thank you so much for writing, Pam. We are also excited by the prospect of taking our happy place to every community in the East Bay. And we have a few more ideas like that under our sleeve. Thank you for all you do for Lindsay!

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