Exploring the African-American legacy in preserving open space | February 21, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 21, 2014

Exploring the African-American legacy in preserving open space

Ravenswood Open Space hosts Buffalo Soldiers at Black History Month hike

by Tre'vell Anderson

The role of African-Americans in the United States' history receives heightened attention during the month of February each year. In an effort to introduce community members to a part of history unknown to some, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is sponsoring a Black History Month hike, history presentation and crafts experience to explore how African-Americans played a role in land preservation.

"One of our goals is to celebrate the history of conservation and the diversity in the history of conservation," Amanda Kim, the media communications supervisor for the district, said. "We want everyone who lives nearby to be out in their open space preserves and enjoying the legacy of these places."

The event will take place at the Ravenswood Open Space Preserve in East Palo Alto on Saturday, Feb. 22, starting at 1 p.m. It will encompass two docent-led hikes, of half a mile or 1.25 miles, small groups for bird watching and arts and crafts and a 10-minute presentation by the California Buffalo Soldiers.

The Buffalo Soldiers will be from the 9th and 10th Cavalry Association headquartered in Los Banos. A group of re-enactors, the organization continues the history of the all-Black 9th and 10th Calvary and 24th and 25th Infantry regiments created by Congress post-Reconstruction. Before the creation of the National Park Service, these men patrolled the Yellowstone, Sequoia and Yosemite parks.

The Ravenswood Preserve is a flat area, along the migratory path of rare birds, with bountiful flowers that open onto the San Francisco Bay. It is very close to the original Buffalo Soldier trail, which ran from San Francisco down El Camino Real across the Diablo Range.

"So this provides a unique opportunity to share a legacy with (Ravenswood) and us," said Cameron Gazaway, a member of the district's board of directors.

The Soldiers got their name from Native Americans who likened their dark skin and curly hair to a buffalo's coat and revered the buffalo for its bravery and fighting spirit. As they were assigned to protect the parks amid an American spirit of expansion and settlement, the Buffalo Soldiers helped to construct roads, create maps, extinguish fires, monitor tourists and keep poachers and loggers at bay. The Soldiers helped to "preserve and enhance those spaces," Gazaway said. As re-enactors, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Association preserves African-American history as it relates to the nation's parks.

"We provide that missing piece of history," Gazaway said of the message the Buffalo Soldiers attempt to give to audiences in inner city and underserved areas. "Parks are a part of your legacy, too."

The Soldiers, after their presentation, will also participate in the hike and help youth with crafts like making bracelets representing the five stages of the water cycle. Youth will also be able to get free binoculars.

Community leader Henrietta Burroughs, founder of the East Palo Alto Center for Community Media, will attend the event as a special guest. A member of the advisory committee for the district, she recognizes a particular distinction in this type of Black History Month event.

"It's interesting because when one celebrates Black History, the contributions of Black Americans, it's in music, the arts," Burroughs said. "That in itself might be a big distinction (between this Black History event and others)."

The Black History Month event at Ravenswood follows a push by Midpeninsula to further engage the community under the Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative, an effort by park and open space agencies in the Bay Area to provide introductory level activities for people of all ages. Citing The Health Benefits of Parks study conducted by The Trust for Public Land, Kim noted that the Centers for Disease Control estimate that a 20-minute walk a day per person could end the nation's obesity epidemic.

"Leading a sedentary lifestyle is one of the contributors to preventable diseases and just getting out to open space a little bit every day or a couple times a week can improve people's health," she said.

Conveniently, the half-mile walk from the parking area to the first viewing platform at Ravenswood takes just 20 minutes.

Ravenswood is open from sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset each day.

Information about the event is posted at www.openspace.org/activities/black_history.asp

Editorial Intern Tre'vell Anderson can be emailed at tanderson@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by UC Davis Grad
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm

Great to see this happening!

Let's hope this is the start of many similar events to come.

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