Celebration to spotlight role of blacks in national parks 

click to enlarge The California Buffalo Soldiers Association will be at Ravenswood on Saturday. - COURTESY MIDPENINSULA REGIONAL OPEN SPACE DISTRICT
  • Courtesy Midpeninsula regional open space District
  • The California Buffalo Soldiers Association will be at Ravenswood on Saturday.

Historical reenactors portraying the U.S. Army's legendary Buffalo Soldiers will be among the attractions when Black History Month is celebrated at the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve in East Palo Alto from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

Hosted by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, the event includes guided hikes, activities and crafts for kids, bird watching, environmental education, free food and a chance to explore one of the Bay Area's lesser-known Bayside open-space preserves.

The celebration is designed to highlight the role blacks have played in the history of national parks in California. Some of that history will come to life with a special appearance by the California Buffalo Soldiers Association, whose members don authentic uniforms and pay tribute to the segregated black Army regiments originally formed in the 1800s.

Members of those regiments served in California's national parks beginning in 1899, protecting places like Yosemite in a role that would eventually be filled by modern park rangers.

Having increased diversity among today's park rangers would encourage more people of color to visit national parks, according to Teresa Baker, who is collaborating with Midpen on Saturday's celebration.

Baker said she founded the African American National Parks Event in 2013, a grass-roots effort that has "grown like wildfire" around the country. The campaign began with Baker putting out a call on Facebook for blacks to visit national parks on the first weekend in June and then post about their experiences.

Midpen spokeswoman Amanda Kim said she hopes the local celebration will make more Peninsula residents aware of the Ravenswood preserve. The area, which includes Cooley Landing, is perfect for walking because it's very difficult to get lost, and all the trails feature great views of the Bay, according to Kim.

Kim added that Midpen is interested in promoting Ravenswood to East Palo Alto residents for the potential health benefits associated with outdoor recreation, and she said the park's easy walking trails are a big selling point because even novice hikers can pass the 30-minute mark on those trails.

Research has shown that going for half-hour walks is an easy habit to get into and yields significant health benefits, Kim noted.

Kim said that within the next five to 10 years, Midpen hopes to provide hikers and bicyclists with a contiguous route stretching from Redwood City through Ravenswood, all the way to Alviso in the South Bay.

"This is what will connect East Palo Alto to other communities," Kim said. "We're hoping East Palo Alto will become a recreational destination and a place to enjoy nature."

Saturday's event will be co-hosted by Henrietta Burroughs, founder of the East Palo Alto Center for Community Media, and the guest list includes state Sen. Jerry Hill, Assemblyman Richard Gordon, county Supervisor Warren Slocum and East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Yarbrough-Gauthier. For more information, visit www. openspace.org/events/.

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