(Photo Credit: National Park Service)

Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The month also recognizes the independence days of five Latin American countries. The day of September 15 is significant because it is the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18.

Sandy Point State Park
(Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program)

Embrace and Educate:

Of the 18 million residents of the Chesapeake watershed, over 8% are of Hispanic or Latin descent. It’s an expansive community with strong ties to the outdoors. To further engage this community, the National Park Service (NPS) Chesapeake Bay Office enlisted the help of Hispanic Access Foundation interns to conduct a visitor use study to identify the needs of visitors (80% of whom are Latino/Hispanic) regularly using Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis, Maryland.

To address these needs, in 2019 a collaborative partnership between NPS, Chesapeake Conservancy, Maryland DNR, the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) emerged to fund the creation of two bilingual interpretive outreach assistant positions based at Sandy Point State Park, to provide translation services and develop programming to better engage the Latino/Hispanic community.

In the years since, the program has expanded to include multiple positions that are based out of several state parks in Maryland, including Patapsco Valley State Park.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2022, the program has had 6 bilingual interpretive outreach assistants working alongside park staff to translate park documents and signs; engage a variety of Latinx communities throughout the watershed by having programming in parks, such as the new “Campamento de Guardaparques Juveniles” from the “Junior Ranger” program taking place in the Avalon area of Patapsco Valley State Park; and assisting in the Junior Ranger Angler program developed by NPS Education Coordinator, Brittany Omeleye-Hall, in partnership with Masonville Cove and Maryland Environmental Center staff.

The bilingual interpretive outreach assistants have also been busy putting together family-friendly events with an emphasis on the intersection of Latinidad and the outdoors with the Maryland Park Service and Maryland Department of Natural Resources. These events have been coined “Es Mi Parque” which translates to “It’s My Park.” These have taken place in Rocky Gap State Park, Patapsco Valley State Park, and Point Lookout State Park with the hope to encourage Latinx visitors to explore the activities they can do at the parks, learn about park safety and regulations, and interact with park staff. The bilingual interpretive outreach assistants have also had smaller, “pop-up” events to engage with visitors on a less structured scale out of Sandy Point’s new bilingual Nature Center. Activities have included painting tree cookies (cross-sectional slices), seining, and picking up “trash for treasure.” In the latter, participants could choose from a curated treasure box or have handmade refreshing paletas (Mexican fruit ice cream) from “Hecho en Baltimore,” a local woman-owned business and partner.

Now transitioning into the fall, staff has been busy preparing growing Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations at Patapsco Valley State Park and Sandy Point State Park. The next event will take place at Sandy Point on October 8th, 2022 from 10am-2pm, at the Nature Center in the South Beach area of the park. The event will be focused on activities such as guided hiking every hour and a half, treasure hunt bingo, Monarch butterfly and Chesapeake Bay watershed trivia, fishing demos and crafts, with a variety of giveaways and prizes, and much more.

Representation and Opportunity Matters:

My name is Aurelia Gracia, Outdoor Recreation Planner for the National Park Service’s Chesapeake Office and one of the many writers behind Lighting Updates. As part of this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, I would like to share my journey into a conservation career field.

Born in Brownsville, Texas – my family traces its lineage to San Luis Potosi, Mexico. I was raised in a large Hispanic community and was embedded in the rich culture and traditions of Mexican heritage. Unfortunately opportunities for higher education, access to resources and career exploration outside of south Texas are few and far between. As a child I had a passion for the outdoors which led to my Natural Resource and Conservation studies at Texas A&M University (made possible through a scholarship for first generation students). At Texas A&M University I was able to participate in a two-year academic program offered by the National Park Service known as the ProRanger Program. The ProRanger Program was created by the National Park Service as a diversity recruitment tool, offering pipeline hiring opportunities for minority students.

I’ve been a huge advocate for recruitment tools such as the ProRanger Program, engaging diverse audiences, and providing opportunities for underserved communities. I enjoy the work I do with the NPS as it has provided opportunities to work with local communities, serve as a diversity representative, and expand on access to outdoor sites.

Several agencies and local nonprofits offer opportunities for youth and young adults such as internships, pathways programs, and volunteering. I would encourage you to spread the word about these programs and tools as you might plant the seed for someone’s future career!

Programs such as these are important to connecting with park users and their surrounding communities, as well as to provide staff in the park who can show examples of a diverse and inclusive workforce so that young people might see themselves in similar careers.

Image credit:

  1. Sandy Point State Park Bilingual Rangers (Photo Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program)
  2. Aurelia Gracia (Photo Credit: Aurelia Gracia)

Lightning Update is a regular communication of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions of the Partnership or member organizations.
To share a success story, news, or important event, send your information to:

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Support for the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is provided by:
National Park Service Chesapeake
EPA Chesapeake Bay Program
USDA Forest Service
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Outdoors Foundation
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Chesapeake Conservancy

The Chesapeake Conservation Partnership is co-convened by: