Seniors, Latinos report access barriers to parks


Though most visitors to Marin County’s parks and open space preserves feel satisfied with their experiences, barriers to access remain for Latinos and seniors, according to a study issued by the county in April. Based on two small focus groups from San Rafael tapped to evaluate the experiences of underserved park users, Latinos and seniors cited a lack of transportation and prohibitive fees, as well as safety concerns and an absence of Spanish-language signage, as reasons for visiting less often. To broaden its findings, the county plans to conduct a follow-up study over the winter—this time incorporating focus groups from West Marin. “There are several other groups we feel we need to get to know better,” said Kevin Wright, an external affairs coordinator with the parks department. “One is a variety of West Marin groups, and certainly Latinos and senior citizens are at the top of the list.” Local advocate Maria Niggle said West Marin families mostly visit Bear Valley and Heart’s Desire Beach, as well as other popular local spots, where many enjoy beach barbecues, baptisms and first communions as ways to bond. She reasoned that local Latinos often run out of time to visit parks as often as they would like, since many hold down time-consuming or multiple jobs. “I think it’s just a time issue,” said Ms. Niggle, chair of the West Marin Collaborative and co-leader of the advocacy group Abriendo Caminos. “You work a lot of jobs to live in Marin.” Meanwhile, many seniors in West Marin cannot reach parks due to physical infirmities and a lack of public transportation, according to West Marin Senior Service’s program director, Pam Osborn. The study noted that many seniors surveyed nevertheless placed a high value on using parks for exercise and relieving stress. Conducted in collaboration with San Francisco State University, the study counted around 7,000 visitors to parks and trails over three-hour daily monitoring periods from September to November of last year, and estimated that around 90,000 visits were made during that period. More detailed information, such as age and race, was tallied for 1,168 visitors who filled out surveys during their trips, to give a rough sense of who visits county parks, why they visit and what keeps some from visiting. Based on those surveys, just 10 percent of all users were Latinos, lower than the 16 percent that Latinos represent for all of Marin residents, according to the 2010 United States Census. Visitors aged 60 and older mirrored the county’s total demographic share, at just over 25 percent. Of the visitors surveyed, the majority were middle-aged Anglos from Marin who live close to parks. That trend, however, did not hold true for the playground in Point Reyes Station, where only roughly a third of visitors who returned surveys were Marin residents compared to the study’s total 17 sites, which averaged just over 75 percent Marin residents.