Now going into its 52nd year, California State Parks Foundation has had many remarkable people serve as the Chair of the Board of Trustees. This past October, Birt Johnson, Jr. was elected to serve in the position.
For several decades, Birt and his wife Kathleen have frequented the numerous iconic state parks connected along the Central Coast. Over the years, he introduced those same parks to his sons. Recently, they were blessed with a new granddaughter and look forward to sharing with her the simple pleasures of life. He was excited and proud to become a board trustee, and now humbled to be named the Board Chair.
Birt Johnson, Jr. retired after 33 rewarding years with AT&T. In his last assignment he served as General Manager of the Central Valley / Central Coast Construction & Engineering Region for AT&T. He held a wide variety of line management and staff positions with increasing technical and leadership responsibilities during his career – including, Network Planning, Network Engineering, Technology Selection and Evaluation, Network Operations and External Affairs.
Birt is a long-time resident of the Monterey Peninsula from the early 1960s. He is a product of the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and a proud Seaside Spartan. He received his B.A. in Management from Saint Mary’s College and has completed the Advanced Telecommunications course at the University of Southern California.
At an early age he was taught to give back to his country and community. He is a recipient of the Boy Scouts of America, Whitney M. Young, Jr. (civil rights leader) Award to recognize individuals who have been instrumental in the development of scouting opportunities for “At Risk” youth.
Many years ago, he crafted a Values Statement about his commitment to community work. This statement includes:
Giving Back: You have two hands; one is being held while you are being guided forward; reach back with the other hand and help others. This is true in providing support for community or mentoring individuals.
Making A Difference: Get involved where you can and are able to make a difference. There are more opportunities than available leaders. Understand your skills, knowledge, and experience to identify and find the best match. Engage in the process and focus on the mission or person. Ensure that your time and efforts are utilized appropriately.
Enjoy The Time: Feel good and have fun while giving back! Your enthusiasm will be present and contagious.
Birt has brought those values to his work with California State Parks Foundation. He also has served in capacity as President for Santa Cruz County United Way, Salinas Valley Chamber of Commerce and Monterey Peninsula College Foundation. He currently serves as Vice Chair, for the board of directors of the Community Foundation of Monterey County (CFMC). He also serves as Chair for the Grants & Programs Committee for CFMC. Over the past two decades, he has served with numerous nonprofit organizations to include The Village Project, Inc., Center for Community Advocacy and Save Our Shores.
While Birt is just getting started as Board Chair, he has been with California State Parks Foundation for several years, working alongside the staff to advance the mission. In his partnership with staff, he has shared what he fundamentally believes about the work.
We are the protectors of California parks (so my granddaughters will share the same experiences) and that they remain beautiful and pristine decades from now.
We are responsible for using any available resource(s) to ensure “all” Californians feel welcomed and are able to access our parks.
We acknowledge the historical significance of these lands.
When he stepped up as Board Chair we asked Birt to answer a few key questions on the organization, mission, and California state parks. We share those questions and answers here with you below.
1. What first led you to get involved with California State Parks Foundation?
Early in my career while attending a conference, one of our key leaders spoke about giving back to our communities. Those comments have remained with me for over 30 years. There are more opportunities than available community volunteers, so get involved where you can and are able to make a difference. Focus on the mission, feel good and have fun!
California State Parks Foundation allows me to participate in an ongoing initiative which ensures the state parks we have today, will be experienced by those who come after us (my granddaughters).
2. Why are California state parks important to you?
I was introduced to state parks as an elementary school student with a visit to the Custom House Plaza in Monterey, right next to Monterey State Historic Park. My true appreciation and bonding with state parks occurred as a sophomore in high school, when I was invited to join a friend for an outing at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. I was stunned, amazed, and forever captivated by the sheer living beauty. While we resided only a short distance away, my family and friends were not aware of the many scenic and iconic state parks. As I grew up, the frequency of my visits and exploring increased to include friends and eventually my own family. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Garrapata State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and the newer Fort Ord Dunes State Park are also among my favorites. Our sons’ share a passion for our parks and the outdoors. Our youngest purposefully chose Point Lobos as the special place to propose to his now wife.
Our 280 parks are important and represent special spaces where individuals, families, and friends can visit or gather to relax their minds and refresh their physical being. My hope is that our parks remain indefinitely and even thrive as open spaces for the enjoyment of all Californians.
3. Why do you believe it is important to “protect and preserve” California state parks for the “benefit of all’?
First, the primary mission of California State Parks Foundation is to “preserve and protect” our state parks — this is fundamental to our purpose, initiatives, and efforts. Over 50 years ago, William Penn Mott, Jr. gathered with a group of supporters and formalized a vision which became California State Parks Foundation. His vision represents a journey of dedication and commitment which is carried forward today by the dedicated board and excellent staff.
Secondly, for the “benefit of all.” California is the most populous and diverse state in our country. We believe the numerous urban, suburban, and rural communities with their varied demographics should have the opportunity to actively participate in the beneficial experience of visiting our state parks. California State Parks Foundation advocates for and seek partnerships which warmly welcomes, ensures affordable access to, and provides a rewarding experiences for all Californians.