• Outdoors Outdoors

Most visitors to national forests and parks are white — here's how one company is combatting the 'nature gap' problem

"The goal is to bring the forest closer to Black and Brown children."

"The goal is to bring the forest closer to Black and Brown children."

Photo Credit: iStock

Here's a wild statistic: 88-95% of all visitors to national forests and parks are made by white people, according to U.S. Forest Service data from 2018-2022. 

Beyond that, people of color are three times more likely than white people to live without access to parks, paths, green spaces, and forests, according to a 2020 report

Access to nature has been shown to have a positive impact on physical and mental health — as well as creating a lifelong appreciation for nature that may lead to more sustainable choices.

Addressing this inequity — and trying to inspire more inclusive access to nature — is what motivated an unusual partnership between a popular children's storyteller, the creators behind some of our country's most powerful social impact ads, and one of America's largest retailers.

"The Ad Council came to us and said, there's not enough Black and Brown children going to forests," Susie Jaramillo, the CEO of Encantos, an award-winning inclusive storytelling platform for children, told The Cool Down. "They asked us to help educate kids around the concept of urban forests, and the idea that you don't have to go to a national park to appreciate a forest."

The Ad Council, a non-partisan organization that works to create social impact through communication, has produced iconic campaigns like "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" and the Smokey the Bear ads.

They enlisted Jaramillo and her team to address the gap through storytelling, specifically a book titled "Find Your Forest," sold exclusively at Target.

"The goal is to bring the forest closer to Black and Brown children."
Photo Credit: U.S. Forest Service

"The goal is to bring the forest closer to Black and Brown children. If kids get to know nature, they'll be more inclined to take care of it," Jaramillo said. 

Encantos produces a popular series called "Tiny Travelers," a series of children's books that takes kids into cultures around the world. But this time, they're taking children into the culture of the forest — meeting the trees and creatures, learning about ecosystems and sustainability — through vivid illustrations. 

"Celebrate the magic of the forest and learn about the different trees, birds, plants, and insects and so much more that together, make our wonderful parks and forests unique," the book promises. 

The book was written by 17-year-old first-time author Audrey Noguera and her father Taylor Margis-Noguera, a Costa Rican American, under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service and the editorial team from Encantos. Jaramillo says the book will also be translated into Spanish. 

"The goal is to bring the forest closer to Black and Brown children."
Photo Credit: Encantos

"Since 2009, the Ad Council and USDA Forest Service's Discover the Forest campaign has inspired many families to connect with nature and each other. Our recent partnership with Encantos and Target has helped us further the campaign's mission in encouraging families to explore a forest near them," Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer at the Ad Council, told The Cool Down. "'Find your Forest' empowers families to get into nature with enhanced knowledge about the various trees and wildlife that make the outdoors truly magical."

A landmark study by Conservation Science Partners, commissioned by the Center for American Progress and the Hispanic Access Foundation, looked at the reasons behind the "nature gap," explored the impact on communities of color, and proposed a prescription for addressing it. 

"The unequal distribution of nature in America — and the unjust experiences that many people of color have in the outdoors — is a problem that national, state, and local leaders can no longer ignore," the report authors wrote. "With scientists urging policymakers to protect at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030 to address the biodiversity and climate crises, now is the time to imagine how, by protecting far more lands and waters over the next decade, the United States can guarantee every child in America the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of nature near their home." 

For the team behind "Find Your Forest," part of the solution starts with inviting children into the beauty of nature around them. 

"It's time to visit a forest," the book reads. "The trees are waiting for us." 

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