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Art Hike Challenge Encourages Guests to Visit County Parks

Mural installations bring local art into the spotlight

Carlos Campos talks about a piece by Priscilla Martinez that is part of the Art Hike Challenge, which will soon be expanding to other areas of the county. PHOTO: JOHANNA MILLER

A new series of murals has been installed at Pinto Lake County Park, with the goal of encouraging more visitors to the park and showcasing local art. 

The murals are part of the Art Hike Challenge, organized by County Parks Friends. Guests can download a map and locate each piece, take photographs with the art, then email County Parks Friends for a chance to win a prize.

Created by Watsonville artist Pricilla Martinez, the murals are scattered along the park’s hiking trails and wide-open spaces. They feature everything from a group of children playing jump rope to a family of ducks. One piece, depicting two hands held together in prayer, is located near the shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe.

This piece by Priscilla Martinez depicting a fish and a frog is so far the most popular to take a photo with for the Art Hike Challenge. PHOTO: JOHANNA MILLER

The idea for the Art Hike Challenge came from Carlos Campos, mobilization leader with County Parks Friends, who says he was looking for ways to safely engage the South County community with parks while bringing local art into the spotlight.

“A lot of us in Watsonville have tried to get more art in our city parks, but it hasn’t always been that easy,” Campos said. “So I thought, well, the next best thing is to have them at county parks.”

Campos had seen Martinez’s Día de los Muertos cutout murals that were installed in the plaza last year and was inspired. 

“I saw those and was like, ‘How can we put those in more parks?’” he said. “They were only there for a short time… how could we install something like that and keep it for longer?”

After Campos reached out, Martinez got to work in creating the murals. They were officially installed in late March, with the help of County Parks Friends staff and other mobilization leaders.

In addition to highlighting the art, Campos hopes the challenge will bring more people to Pinto Lake County Park, which he called “a hidden gem.”

“A lot of people from the county, who maybe aren’t from Watsonville … might not know all of this is here,” he said.

The Art Hike Challenge is available to everyone, but is specifically used for the ParkRx program, in which doctors can prescribe free, outdoor activities directly to their patients.

“Especially for kids … it’s a reminder that there are things you can do outdoors, while also staying safe,” Campos said. “That’s important, especially during Covid.”

This artwork by Priscilla Martinez is one of many scattered around Pinto Lake County Park. PHOTO: JOHANNA MILLER

Since the Art Hike Challenge began, other similar projects have been planned in parks across the county. On May 8, Art Outdoors: Hike to Heal began at Felton Discovery County Park. Next month, The 4 Mayors: Outside the Frame, and Santa Cruz County: Framing Nature will both kick off, with a series of artistic frames in city and county park locations in Watsonville, Capitola, Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley.

Campos said he was surprised at how much has come out of his project. He was initially contracted to work for County Parks Friends for only three months, to come up with ideas during the pandemic. But as his project grew, so did his role. 

“I didn’t think it would get that big,” he said. “I didn’t think we’d be contracted to do a lot more. It feels good to bring art to my community.”

Campos gave a lot of credit to County Parks Friends Executive Director Mariah Roberts and Parks & Programs Specialist Aniko Millan in helping organize the challenge and allowing it to grow as big as it has.

“They’re the ones who did lots of the work, all the behind-the-scenes stuff,” he said. “This wouldn’t have actually happened without them.”

Pinto Lake County Park is located at 757 Green Valley Road in Watsonville. To download the Art Hike Challenge map, click here.


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