SB 289: Addressing a safety disparity in the outdoors

OEC was excited to see that yesterday, June 9, 2021, the Oregon Legislature passed, with broad support from both Republicans and Democrats, SB 289, the Safety in the Outdoors bill. For years, research has shown that spending time outdoors, whether it be a walk in a city park or a wilderness hike, lowers stress and enhances overall health. This last year, access to the outdoors has become especially important because going out to a park or natural area has been one of the few safe activities during the pandemic.

But the outdoors, especially more remote areas, are not equally accessible, comfortable, or safe for everyone. For historically marginalized communities such as Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, outdoor areas may feel scary, especially during a time when hate crimes have drastically increased in public spaces.¹ The American Hiking Society², Sierra Club³, and many others have recognized the racism that underpins the history of establishing outdoor recreation spaces and the ongoing barriers to participation. 

Statistics collected from the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service show people of color are a lot less likely to visit parks and open spaces. 

The disparity in visiting parks is not an accident or a matter of preference. It’s the result of a history in which it was illegal for People of C0lor to enter public spaces and where forests and open spaces were the sites of lynchings. Although laws are gradually changing to dismantle legal segregation, there is still a perceived threat of violence and history of discrimination that keeps people of color from visiting, and enjoying the benefits, of natural spaces. 

People of Color value green spaces and these spaces can hold very special and sacred meaning for People of Color and their communities. Whether they be neighborhood or state parks for family gatherings or a hike along a river, access should be  safe, comfortable, and welcoming for all to enjoy.

SB 289 A is an important step to make public spaces safer for everyone, and to ensure more equitable access to Oregon state parks and resources that are critical to health and well-being. 

OEC is proud to have supported the passage of SB 289. We’re glad to see the Oregon Legislature act to protect the safety of all Oregon residents and ensure they can enjoy the incredible natural beauty of Oregon.


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