Creating a Sense of Place Through Civic Engagement

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The environment is viewed from a subjective sense by the individual and is subjected to such factors as location, interactions, and general knowledge of the location by the individual.  In the time of great social changes that face humanity, it is important for society to preserve some of the naturally occurring wonders that the world has presented to us.  With the preservation of such areas as the Angeles District Malibu Sector of Pt. Mugu Leo Carrillo State Park, our society will be able to constantly view a positive interaction that could be maintained between the way in which the individuals of the area were able to coexist and preserve the natural beauty of this location.  Through the act of volunteering and spending a day at the particular location, I was able to gain a further appreciation and understanding of this state park through the actions that transpired over the course of the overnight field trip.  

It is important to remember that humans have an extremely impactful relationship with that of nature.  Our actions can have extreme consequences, both positive and negative, and we must always remember that what we choose to do in the present can have a dramatic impact upon the future. This view mirrors the initiatives of Greenpeace throughout the last few decades. This is also a view that is shared and expanded upon by Robert Cox in his work, Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere.  He notes such important relations about our environment and the way in which our views have a direct impact with the way in which we interact with it.  He notes, “there is no objective environment in the phenomenal world, no environment separate from the words we use to represent it,” (Cox, 2013), implying that the direct relationship and view that society has about the environment plays an immense role in the way we interact with it.  Should we choose to not care or disregard a particular location or feature, it is more than likely that, as a negatively seen aspect, our care and concern will deteriorate up until the point where we no longer care for, or about, the fate of the location in question.  This basic concept can be summarized in the notion that the environment’s identity is perceived almost entirely through subjective means, giving it a plastic identity that can be altered or viewed upon in a unique sense by the perceptions of our society as a whole (Cox, 2013).

The park itself if both rich in history and activities and offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience one of the most treasured locations within the California environment.  With its comfortable Mediterranean climate coupled with carrying topography, the park offers a number of distinct features such as beaches, rock formations, unique wildlife and vegetation, and biodiversity. With all of these different naturally occurring phenomenon within the park’s limits, there are a number of activities that can be offered to the visiting individual, such as hiking, fishing, swimming and diving, camping, surfing, wildlife observing, tide pools and, generally, the ability to enjoy one of nature’s largest areas in biodiversity in all of California. Spending a single night and full day there only gave us the smallest look into the park and its operations, but it was clear that someone could spend countless hours investigating what the park had to offer in terms of a unique experience.    

Experience

For the trip to the itself, I spent a Friday afternoon and Saturday exploring, experiencing, and gaining a much better appreciation for the Leo Carrillo area.  My classmates and I arrived at around 4pm on Friday afternoon and proceeded to set up our campsite for the trip.  The area that we chose was within the pleasant Canyon Campground that offered a variety of features and was a fantastic location.  The site itself is made up of 135 family sites that each contain their own table and fire ring for cooking or social engagement of the campers, which we took full advantage of. As part of the dinner crew, my job was to help prepare the group’s meal, and I must admit, it was a delicious one at that.  We prepared shish kebobs, beans, garlic bread and a salad for our group, and the meal was well received and very appreciated by those that we served.  After completing dinner, and ensuring that the area had been properly cleaned, we built a campfire and enjoyed the campsite and surrounding area until the night had completely set in.  After it had reach about 10:30pm, the group decided that we should go and see some of the rock formations that were down by the beaches since the moon was so bright that it was easy to see and gave the whole area a mystic-like feel.  We all ended up climbing some of the rock formations, which was extremely enjoyable, and then all settled down to enjoy the magical scene of waves crashing upon the shore and cliffs under the moonlight. It was the perfect end to an extremely enjoyable day, but the next day would be even more enjoyable and informative about the park.

Starting our day off early, we all enjoyed a quick, filling breakfast and headed off to the visitor center to help with our volunteer work for the day.  Our job was going to be to help with the park’s public garden’s maintenance and clean up.  Though I am not much of a gardener, the park’s garden took even my breath away and I was awe struck to see such natural beauty!  The group clearly shared this opinion, and we quickly set off on our jobs that we were instructed to help out with.  First, we helped in weeding the garden.  We were told how this process is used as a means of educating the public because it gives a hands-on experience of seeing the native species of plant life in the area and helps those with little knowledge of ecology to see how some species of plants can survive and introduce themselves to specific areas.  

After we finished with weeding, we helped to remove any non-native species out of the garden to keep it preserved with exclusively naturally occurring species, which helps support the ecosystem of the garden.  When species that are not native become introduced, they can spread so quickly that they jeopardize the naturally occurring species of the area that are not genetically programmed to deal with the invading species.  One of the other tasks that we completed during this portion of the trip was to help with the removal of monarch caterpillars from the garden and the relocation of them to a safe area where they could grow and, hopefully, become monarch butterflies.  

Though the work was difficult and physical in nature, the fruits of our labors were easily recognized by the time that we finished these tasks up, and we were quite pleased with the impact that we had on the surroundings.  After the weeding and cleaning of the garden, we had one last task to complete that served as both a protection and cosmetic measure to the garden.  We laid down a weed barrier made of fabric around the garden to help ensure that, for a time at least, more weeds would not be able to grow in the area where they could damage the plant species that had been planted.  After laying the barrier, we covered the garden around the visitor center with mulch to cover our work and to make the area more pleasing to the eyes of the viewers.  Overall, the day was a complete success, and we were very pleased with our ability to help preserve the park’s garden.

Theoretical Analysis

Whenever one deals with such delicate ecosystems such as the one in the Leo Carrillo State Park, it is important to look at the big picture perspective about the interactions between our society and such locations.  More specifically, it is important to see the importance of the role that communication plays in shaping the public’s general knowledge and opinions of such areas.  As noted by Bennett, in this changing times of economic, social institutions, and communication processes, it is of critical importance that we are able to express the importance of such actions of preservation and public knowledge on location such as Leo Carrillo so that the public will want to positively identify the location and protect it (Bennett, 2000, pg. 307).  Since we now live in a 24-hour news cycle where negativity and tragedy are the most reported stories, it is hard for such locations as state parks to receive much of the media’s attention and airtime, however this should be altered to inform the general population about such locations.  As Bennett states, the now fragmented media audiences are now the norm who are becoming used to a personalization of information and delivery (Bennett, 2000 pg. 308).  What should be done is to shape civic information and programs to reach particular sectors of these fragmented audiences that are most likely to gain from them.  

The way in which the government communicates about locations such as the Los Carrillo State Park could dramatically shift the view of one of these small, fragmented groups and gain their support to its cause of preservation.  From there, more and more groups could be targeted with the added support of one of the audience group until a point where most people support the public action of protecting and preserving these types of locations.  This draws on understanding the importance of language and the central role it plays in shaping one’s opinions of a particular subject, such as the environment.  As previously mentioned, the environment’s identity is almost completely determined by subjective analysis, so a positive presentation of it can be extremely beneficial in turning the public’s support towards the cause of preservation.

Implications & Conclusion

By turning the general population’s support to preserving this natural beauty, the government can help to ensure that locations such as Los Carrillo are around for generations to come.  A concise, well thought out message should be delivered to the general population that shows the park’s beauty and the enjoyment that those that have visited the park have had in doing so.  This will help to sway those who have not really thought about state parks as a positive or negative feature towards the positive side and can, hopefully, create a positive image of the park within the viewers mind.  Without doing this, there will be no real rational for individuals to continue to want to fight to preserve and maintain these locations, which could have dramatic consequences upon the environment and the biodiversity that unique locations such as Los Carrillo offer to the world.  

The Los Carrillo State Park serves as a wonderful example of a naturally preserved and maintained ecosystem that has been free of the negative impacts that humans and climate change can have upon the environment.  The acts of those that have helped maintained this pristine landscape are not enough to help ensure that the area will remain forever, however.  It will take a collective effort from all of us to make sure that this natural location is kept safe and out of harm’s way, and in order to do this, an effective means of public awareness must be created.  Through proper communication of the wondrous location, the necessary civic engagements can take place to ensure that the park is maintained.  To do so, it is essential that the role of language is adhered to in creating such a public awareness.  As Robert Cox correctly notes, the environment’s identity is almost completely plastic (Cox, 2013).  The way that we view and share about the environment will shape the general opinion about it to all of those that do not have an opinion on the matter or have not experienced particular areas.                 

References

Bennett W.L. (2000). Communication and Civic Engagement in Comparative Perspective, Political Communication, 17 (4), 307-312

Cox, R. (2013). Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere (3rd ed.). LA, CA: Sage Publications.