The study presented a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge? Communicating and serving various culturally diverse populations to break the language barrier that exists between visitors and park staff.
CAPITAL GAZETTE: Ariana Perez: Breaking Language Barriers in Sandy Point
Barely blinking and staring in awe, a group of children sit near each other at Sandy Point State Park during story time as they attentively listen to classic nature stories being read in Spanish.
A couple of days later, books are replaced by fishing rods, where another group of children watch fishing demonstrations to learn more about the activity. These, too, are in Spanish.
Demographics visiting state and county parks in the Washington Metropolitan Area have greatly diversified over the last five years. Traditional hikers and bikers are now joined by other populations, more prominently those of Latin American origin or descent.
Through a visitor use study conducted by an intern from the Hispanic Access Foundation in 2015, the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay Office determined the needs of the 80 percent Latino/Hispanic community at Sandy Point State Park alone.
The opportunity? Educating the growing diverse populations.
That’s when the Es Mi Parque program (meaning, “it’s my park”) launched in 2018 as an effort from the Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources to provide education programming and outreach activities while also working on improving facilities for increased and improved experience at state parks.
After interacting with more than 700 Latino/Hispanic visitors, the DNR learned that many were unfamiliar with state natural resource laws and regulations. Drawing from those lessons, the department’s efforts have since included making fishing regulations and their boater safety course available in Spanish.
Similarly, NPS and Chesapeake Conservancy identified the need for more outreach to the diverse populations visiting Sandy Point as an opportunity to educate about stewardship of the Chesapeake Bay.
This summer, the Chesapeake Conservancy is piloting a bilingual Spanish outreach and engagement program at Sandy Point. Turning to local colleges and community resource centers for the Latino/Hispanic community, they recruited for the first time two bilingual interpretive outreach assistants whose main focus is to develop free programming aimed at better engaging with the community.
Julian Segovia and Daniel Salomon are stationed at Sandy Point and are leading the efforts as the first official bilingual staff.
“People like to know that you see the need in the community, so if your program is targeted towards the Spanish-speaking community, let them know,” Julian said. “The community often feels left out and disadvantaged through language barriers and social stigmas, therefore they will see you as their representative and want to participate with you and your park.”
Both Julian and Daniel have an art backgrounds, which has motivated them to develop innovative and engaging programs that helps the park connect to visitors in new ways. Proud of their heritage, they have developed other creative programs like “Pintando la Bahía” (meaning, ‘painting the bay’), a painting program on the beach; “Historias en Español” (meaning, ‘stories in Spanish’), used as a space for storytime in Spanish; and “Música Reciclada” (meaning, ‘recycled music’), a music program that uses recycled materials as instruments.
“It’s important because, no matter what the makeup of the community is, everyone should feel like they belong,” Daniel said. “Sandy Point, Chesapeake Conservancy and the National Park Service are trying really hard to make sure the Latino/Hispanic community feels included and has a voice and I just think that’s absolutely beautiful.”
Chesapeake Conservancy hopes to continue their efforts next summer after piloting the program this year to continue to engage the growing diverse community while educating more people on the importance of conservation stewards of the Chesapeake.