The City of Santa Maria has received over half a million dollars from California State Park’s new Outdoor Equity Grant Program. The money will fund a new outdoor recreation program in Santa Maria that expands outdoor and educational opportunities for all, the city says.
The $589,000 grant will be used to create the Santa Maria Outdoor Recreation Experience (SMORE) at Buena Vista Park, which will offer programs for local youth. Programs hosted at this park include horseback riding, whale watching tours, family camping trips, swimming lessons, a junior ranger program, and a nature education program.
Dennis Smitherman, Recreation Services Manager for the City of Santa Maria’s Recreation and Parks Department said, “Buena Vista Park will be our nature hub for the next 3 years. We want people to learn about all the different ecosystems and environments that are within 10 miles of here, it really means using this park and this building as a home base for delivering education.” He also said that this new grant is an opportunity to involve local youth in their community and in nature.
Smitherman helped develop this scholarship and said this is an area of Santa Maria with very diverse socioeconomic status. There are single-family homes, but there are also houses that house seven or eight people — so, he said, the park really becomes their backyard.
Funding for this program is intended to help advance the Outdoors For All initiative endorsed by the Natural Resources Agency and the Outdoor Access for All initiative sponsored by Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.
Both initiatives aim to expand outdoor access to all Californians by also prioritizing access for underrepresented communities, according to the state. Officials say the program is also designed to empower youth and families with outdoor leadership training, career paths and commitment to environmental justice.
Smitherman said much of the work has already been done, but now is the time to get bigger plans underway. “It’s a double-edged sword. You are so happy about the scholarship – but we got the scholarship, we have to move. That’s why we’re always happy to hear such good news.”
The department hopes to roll out their programs later this summer with only some of their planned programs initially, and they hope to make progress as the year progresses.