An Inside Look: Volunteer Program
A special note from our Volunteer Program Manager, Melissa Potts
California State Parks Foundation’s volunteer program aims to address the challenges our state parks face, build a community of park stewards, and ensure that state parks are accessible and relevant to all. We work closely with California State Parks staff to identify projects where they need support. With the help of our volunteer core leaders (volunteers that lead and organize workdays), we host workdays at California state parks to help bring extra hands to steward and maintain the land. Our program is active in about 30 parks from San Diego to Los Angeles, Monterey, San Francisco, and further north to Humboldt.
Our volunteers come from all different backgrounds with unique stories of what inspired them to join a workday, and each have their own connections to their parks. As the volunteer program manager, it is a privilege to be able to see firsthand the level of passion our volunteers have for their parks. I am always inspired by this community. We have core leaders - many of whom have supported our organization for several years - who are dedicated to our program and help lead events throughout the state. We have families and individuals that join us every month and even volunteers that travel long distances to participate in as many of our events as possible.
During our workdays, volunteers put 110% into completing projects. From groups planting 100s of plants in a matter of hours, to repairing park fencing, to rehabilitating trails, to cleaning up micro-trash, our workdays show just what a community can do when they come together with a shared goal.
The work we are doing at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Los Angles State Historic Park, and Patrick’s Point State Park are prime examples of the impact our volunteers make, and the community built through the program.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is in the Santa Cruz Mountains and is most famous for the 40-acre grove of towering old-growth redwood trees. On a monthly basis, we have been helping with a variety of maintenance projects. Most recently, we’ve focused on the area along the main entrance of the park. The road leading into the park is heavily trafficked by cars, bicyclists, and walkers. Overgrown trees and shrubs alongside the road forced walkers to walk on the edge of the road, presenting significant hazards to both walkers and drivers. The maintenance crew has limited resources, and while they would have been able to eventually clear the overgrowth, it would have taken weeks. Instead, our volunteer crew worked with the maintenance staff and cleared a substantial portion of the roadway in just a few hours.
Los Angeles State Historic Park provides an extraordinary opportunity for recreation and education in the heart of Los Angeles. Within its 32 acres, park visitors can discover the natural and cultural heritage of the city. Volunteer workdays at this site focus on habitat restoration by planting California native plants and removing invasive weeds. The native species planted are beneficial to wildlife that call the park home or stop by when migrating along the nearby Los Angeles River. Our work also shows the beauty and history of native plants to visitors who might otherwise not get out to more remote state parks.
Patrick’s Point State Park is in Humboldt County. This park attracts students from the nearby university and allows volunteers from all over the state to participate if they take advantage of the free camping provided by park staff the night before and day of our workday event. A growing community of regular volunteers have been targeting an invasive plant species called English Ivy. Unlike some of our other invasive weed removal projects where we can leave the piles for compost or use them to block social trails, this project requires us to collect and dispose of the English Ivy that was pulled because this plant will continue to grow if the stem remains in the area. Even if there were a single inch of the stem left, it could create a new plant! Pulling English Ivy is a way to restore the native ecosystem on many levels. We remove this plant species because it will overcrowd an area and outcompete native species like the Bleeding Heart, False Lily-of-the-Valley, Sword Fern, Rattlesnake Plantain, and many other flowering species that our bees and diverse butterfly species rely on as a food source. If left unchecked, English Ivy can also push out and pull-down entire trees.
Projects like these are only possible because of individuals who volunteer their time for our parks. In this volunteer appreciation month, I want to send thanks to all our volunteers for supporting our program. Whether you have volunteered once, or 50 times, your work makes a huge impact on our state parks, the wildlife that call our parks home, and the Californians who visit these open lands. We are looking forward to reuniting with and expanding our volunteer community as we start to ramp up workdays again. I hope to see familiar and new faces at a workday in a park soon.