Outdoors for Everyone

NHM connects underserved young Angelenos with L.A.'s wild side

Wild LA Charmlee hiker + Lizard

The City of Angels is famed as a cultural powerhouse, but our natural wonders and local communities are also stars. 

Accessing the wild places around L.A. and the benefits of exposure to nature should be for everyone, but societal barriers have often kept less advantaged communities out. With a new grant-funded program, NHM and Community Partners are hoping to ensure young Angelenos experience the wonder of our natural world.

NHM’s program "The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County and Wild L.A.: Explore the Amazing Nature In and Around L.A." recently received grant funding from the California Department of Parks and Recreation's Outdoor Equity Program. Under this program, NHM researchers explored Charmlee Wilderness Park on a day hike with KFAM–the Korean American Family Services–one of NHMLAC's Community Partners.

The Charmlee nature walk is the first of a planned series of outings connecting multigenerational communities of Angelenos with nature and incredible museum researchers like newly hired Ornithology Collections Manager Dr. Young Ha Suh. Dr. Suh keeps specimens in good condition, helping researchers (and other folks) to access more than 123,000 specimens in the Ornithology Collection. However, for Dr. Suh, connecting the public to museum research was also a big draw to working at NHM.

Dr. Suh teaching KFAM kids about feathers
Dr. Suh discusses the nuances of feathers with eager hikers.

“I've always been really interested in public outreach,” says Dr. Suh. “There’s always this gap between what we find in research and what the public knows and gets to experience. That was one of the main reasons I wanted this position—because there were these public outreach opportunities.” 

Along with the Community Science team and other Museum experts, Dr. Suh introduced participants to the outdoors through education collections and any nature that stood out along the trail. The experience left its mark on KFAM participants and NHM staff alike.

KFAM Charmlee participants
Participants learned about the nature all around them from Museum experts.

“Getting the opportunity to have Museum researchers with us made the experience incredible,” said one participant. “My family enjoyed hearing facts directly from them. Most of all, seeing their passion for the animals they study was really special. I am glad they shared their passion with us.”

Greg Pauly introduces a lassoed lizard to hike participant

The hike’s standout nature encounter was clear: mountain lion poop.  “I think everyone's gonna say this,” says Dr. Suh. Surprising? Maybe, but she points out that it’s a rare find, and Community Science Co-Manager Miguel Ordeñana’s passion for pumas was catching. “Everyone was looking at, taking photos. It's evidence of this large charismatic wildlife around us, and you know, people were so fascinated by it.”

Miguel Ordeñana wows Charmlee KFAM hikers
Community Science Manager and wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana and other NHM staff shared their nature expertise–including why mountain lion scat is so cool!

Young KFAM participants backed her up. “It was a very hot day, but I learned a lot about the mountains, the different type of animals, especially the birds, that live in these mountains and nearby me,” said Kaylee (age 11).  “We got to walk the paths of mountain lions and enjoy the beautiful nature that was all around us. I had a lot of fun and hope we can do more of these trips again.”

“I honestly didn't know what to expect when I signed up,” says Dr. Suh. “The hikers had so many questions and we would point out things along with nature guides like Miguel or Sam. They were really interested in what they were seeing. It was awesome.”

While these outings are meant to foster an appreciation of our natural world and break down barriers to accessing our shared wild spaces, another goal of the grant is to make future high school and college students more aware of natural history and conservation as real career possibilities.

Sam Tayag laying nature knowledge on Charmlee hikers
NHM Community Science Coordinator Sam Tayag shares some nature knowledge.

Nothing is quite as inspiring as spending time in nature, and it's hoped that these outings can help plant the seeds of future generations of scientists and environmentalists—generations that might better reflect the rich diversity of Los Angeles County. 

“After this field trip, I convinced my mom and dad to go on nature walks at least once a week,” says Sam (age 10). “We go at least once a month. I really want to learn more about insects that live around me.” A budding entomologist? Or a young Angeleno who wants to get into nature more? Either way, it's awesome. 

Charmlee KFAM group shot
NHM+KFAM makes for a great wildlife outing. Future programs will involve an array of Community Partners like Black Girls Trekkin' and Proyecto Pastoral, among others.

Check out a video of the hike below, and if you're looking for more information about wildlife in L.A., we literally wrote the book on it.