Jack Shu worked for California State Parks for 29 years, mostly as a Park Superintendent. With a great deal of time spent in the Office of Community Involvement, a unique section called Urban Services gave him insight into the value of outdoor recreation and education.
“The kind of recreation, like hiking and backpacking, was just one part of the bigger picture of what recreation could provide. It was important for me to learn that and to realize that wilderness and outdoor recreation and the benefits of that, are individualized. Some people will get more out of playing team sports, some people will find wilderness in their backyard; you don’t have to necessarily go out to the middle of the Sierras or the Rocky Mountains to get to experience and receive the benefits of outdoor recreation.”
Measuring the Effectiveness of Recreational Facilities
To measure how effective an outdoor facility is, the “output” is in conjunction with the “outcome”. Output describes the amount of use that is observed, comparing things such as two playgrounds of the same age, one with worn in equipment, and in pristine condition but rarely utilized, and determining which has more community value.
Outcome is the metric through which community value is determined, which includes things such as how one feels after spending time there, and if there have been community improvements, such as less crime, in the time since it has been constructed.
Creating Increased Accessibility and Inclusion
With a focus on park service accessibility, Jack also emphasizes the importance of inclusion in the parks system. Based on his experiences Jack found that interaction with outdoor recreational facilities is often influenced by lack of security and cultural attitudes that don’t encourage outdoor activity:
“Culturally we think that to get a better grade or to do better in testing we need to stick kids in classrooms and force information down into them, like force feeding. We know that’s not true, we know as educators for a long time that it may be effective in some respect, but in other countries whether you go to Finland or even Japan, they still value independent thinking as well as being outside and playing.”
Lack of inability to interact with the outdoors particularly impacts underprivileged individuals from communities of color. Lack of understanding, information and accessibility to resources and tools on how to plan a trip really limits access opportunities to visit a state or national park. This often results in exclusion of lower income communities and perpetuates the stereotype that people of color do not enjoy outdoor recreation.
Instead of asking how we can incorporate more people of color into the parks, Jack recommends asking park systems can have less barrier to entry and be more relevant and community centric. For example, creating reservation systems that are easy to understand and navigable is one such way to create opportunities of increased accessibility and interaction for individuals from all walks of life. Jack explains that the current reservation system is restrictive:
“We rely on various mechanisms to reserve campgrounds and campsites and to say that these systems are equitable in any way would be completely false; they’re simply not. You have to have a lot of information about how these reservation systems work, plan in advance, have the ability to plan in advance, have vacation in advance, have everything set up so you can make that reservation and get that campsite and then have everything fall in place, have notifications worked out. Very few people in our society have the ability to do that, particularly if you’re below medium income or if you’re poor; you don't have the ability to do all these things. And that’s why in many ways those systems are selective in who can have access.”
As a solution to creating accessibility, Jack created outdoor education programs that catered to various groups from young women to low-income families. Jack and his team worked with nonprofits that were seeking to empower marginalized individuals through outdoor camping trips, called FamCamp. These are found in most areas of the US, and take kids and their families into regional wilderness areas to teach them the ropes of camping, many for the first time in their lives.
Jack also conducts cultural excursions. Through The Sing Peak Pilgrimage, Jack is able to take people through Yosemite National Park annually, on a three day hike, to teach them not just about the park and camping knowledge, but about the Chinese contribution to the park that is often overlooked in history books.
A wide range of topics are covered this week with Jack Shu on Breaking Green Ceilings. From institutional racism, to bridging language gaps, to the cultural assimilation model versus diversity approach, to the Chinese contributions in National Parks, this week's episode is one you won’t want to miss!
- Following the Spirit of Tie Sing
- New Chinese contributions discovered in Yosemite
- 150 years ago, they were working on the railroad
- A hike along a record-breaking 10miles of track of the first transcontinental railroad
- Kids, Nature, and Public Parks: An Interview with Jack Shu