Parks are a foundation of the Latino culture in the Central Valley — places where families can gather, celebrate milestones and deepen bonds. It is common to see on any given weekend a quinceañera being celebrated or a soccer game being played in a local park. I grew up in Delano, and these places were and are integral to my family and our broader community.

Many of our parks are preserved and maintained through one of our nation’s most important federal conservation programs, the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This program is responsible for protecting our public lands, national parks and forests, while also funding the development of playgrounds, sports fields, bike paths and hiking trails.

LWCF was established in 1965 as a simple yet brilliant idea to protect public lands, water, and recreation areas for all Americans. Funded by royalties from oil and gas companies that extract our natural resources, LWCF does not use any taxpayer funds.

In addition to local parks, LWCF has provided critical funding to protect nearby gems like Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks where families have the opportunity to visit ancient redwood forests and see dramatic landscapes. These places provide accessible options for families to hike, camp and explore.

Parks play a critical role in our region, particularly among the agricultural and immigrant communities. Many of these folks, particularly in Kern County, are here because they were recruited to harvest and work in agriculture. But when they arrive, they can feel isolated and alone. It can be difficult for them to get to know folks in their neighborhoods and towns.

Our parks, however, are an opportunity for new immigrants to become a part of the community and feel welcome — a place to bring their families and even meet other folks in similar positions. Parks are also a place to form alliances, to learn and organize.

Places like the Hanford Soccer Complex, which has received more than $100,000 from the LWCF for its development, always has close to 500 kids playing there on a Sunday, joined by their families. Many new immigrants, particularly from Oaxaca, settle in Kings and Kern counties as farmworkers. All-day soccer tournaments at venues like the Hanford Soccer Complex are an opportunity for people, young and old, to come together.

In September, the National Park Service announced it will award more than $1.3 million in funding to the Shafter Recreation and Park District through the LWCF. In years past, the city of Shafter, Delano Memorial Park and the Kern River Parkway Development have also received funding from LWCF.

These parks and facilities are essential to our way of life. Just recently, our Congressman T.J Cox held a town hall in Delano celebrating the impact LWCF has had here. His position on the House Natural Resources Committee gives us a powerful voice in Washington.

Thanks to Congressman Cox’s leadership, LWCF was recently permanently authorized, but the program has yet to receive permanent funding. We are grateful that Congressman Cox is a champion of LWCF and encourage him to continue pushing for a vote on permanent funding for LWCF in the House of Representatives. We support his work on this important program.

Community parks are an integral part of life in the Central Valley. Next time I see a quinceañera take place or a soccer game played in one of our local parks, I know I’ll be thinking of the importance of the LWCF. Let’s continue to fund LWCF and ensure that future generations benefit from this important program.

Emilio Huerta is a Bakersfield-based attorney and civil rights advocate.