Why We Volunteer | Cal Parks

Why We Volunteer

Published: March 10, 2021

By Tanisha Gupta, Volunteer Core Leader

Walking down the picturesque trails at California’s State Parks, one can sometimes come across a group of volunteers helping out at the park. As a volunteer myself, I have met people exploring the nature trail at Half Moon Bay State Beach. Some share a smile and carry on with their activities, others will stop to show gratitude for the work being done, and others will pause to make inquiries about the volunteer efforts. The one thing that they all contemplate is the question that most often goes unanswered: What inspired us to give up our Saturday or Sunday morning to do pro bono work at a state park in sometimes freezing cold or melting heat?  

Visiting Acadia National Park with my parents at age 3 planted the first seed of the environmentally conscious teen I would grow to become. Everything about volunteering at state parks has made my journey with California State Parks Foundation amazing! At my first event at Mount Diablo State Park, I met a California State Parks Foundation core leader, a volunteer that helps lead volunteer workdays. She talked so passionately about the problems that invasive plants pose to our environment that I was immediately moved into action. Now, waking up at 6am to drive up to Half Moon Bay State Beach has become a part of my monthly routine.

Core Leader Tanisha Gupta at Dunes Beach - Half Moon Bay State Beach

Since then, I have gained valuable knowledge on how to maintain trails and use tools to fix fences. At Angel Island State Park, while moving furniture, I learned the history of the park and the stories of the immigrants who passed through. Half Moon Bay State Beach taught me how to use a shovel and a hoe, how to plant, and most of all how to identify different native and invasive plants. New experiences and learning new things continue to motivate me to volunteer my time to help out California’s State Parks. 

I have now transitioned from California State Parks Foundation volunteer to Core Leader because I felt like I could contribute more to parks, and leading workdays seemed like a wonderful way to become even more involved. But my biggest motivations to volunteer have been the ability to clear my mind, achieve something productive, and see the effect that my work has on the park.

That’s just my story, so, in order to answer the big question, I interviewed a few dedicated volunteers who support state parks, and listened to their stories on why they volunteer.


John Salcido, California State Parks Foundation Core Leader

Core Leaders John Salcido at Venice Beach - Half Moon Bay State Beach

John Salcido is a volunteer who has worked with California State Park Foundation for over 8 years as both a volunteer and a Core Leader. Today, he leads the workdays at Half Moon Bay State Beach. John’s love for the environment started when he was a child. Growing up in the Central Valley, he always loved going on camping trips in the Sierra Nevadas and riding his bike to different places. He also grew up in the 60s when many of our current environmental protection laws were passed. 

When he retired from work, state park budgets were being cut badly due to the financial recession of 2008 and he didn’t want to see them close. From there, he attended a Core Leader training session and has led events at Half Moon Bay State Park ever since. John currently uses a lot of the skills he learned at his job to lead workdays. These include creating work plans and reviewing them, capturing metrics, using those metrics to improve the process, and developing reward systems. These were his motivations to volunteer. 


Nikolai Godzik, Volunteer Core Leader

A few of our youth Core Leaders also had some words to say about why they come to volunteer and lead events. Volunteer core leader, Nikolai Godzik, said “The reason I started volunteering is probably similar to the reason you did as well. That is to get volunteer hours, leadership experience and maybe a letter of recommendation. However, after I blew through forty hours I kept coming back because of how much fun I was having. Like I said the best part was being around people that you care about and not as much about the work. Oh, and also the lunches were something to look forward to.” His favorite park is Palomar Mountain State Park. He loves meeting interesting people and forming new friendships. 


Ashley Shannon, Volunteer Core Leader

Volunteer Core Leader Ashley Shannon (Left) at Redwoods National and State Parks

Another core leader, Ashley Shannon, said “I volunteer with the California State Parks and California State Parks Foundation because it makes me happy. I feel like I belong when I’m digging in the dirt with other volunteers. I feel like I know what I’m doing and feel truly confident in that setting. I volunteer and lead work days because it’s my passion. Volunteering with people has provided me with knowledge I wouldn’t have otherwise, people I would have never met, and full happy memories that would cease to exist without my volunteer commitment.” Her love for volunteering and the environment began with her mom. Her favorite state park is Patrick's Point State Park, as it was there she attended her first California State Parks Foundation event. 


Aanya Gupta, Volunteer Core Leader

Core Leader Aanya Gupta Working at Dunes Beach - Half Moon Bay State Beach

Aanya Gupta, has this to say about her experiences, “I volunteer because it is a fun activity with my family, and it is something that I as an 11 year old can do. I have been with CSPF since I was 9 and I have worked at State Parks like Henry Cowell, Angel Island, and Half Moon Bay. As a volunteer at state parks I have learned how to use tools, how to plant and how to be a leader. It is an awesome feeling to see what you have accomplished after 3 hours of hard work or when you come by an area where you planted in the past.”


Grace Solis, Volunteer Core Leader

Core Leader Grace Solis at Agate Beach - Patrick’s Point State Park

Finally, Grace Solis describes her experiences here “I started volunteering because of my mother. I had wanted to go camping and she saw a volunteer day that offered free camping. So from then on, we had started to go to more volunteer days and had started to go camping more. While volunteering I have met so many great and amazing people. I have also learned so much about the history of California and the wildlife. Out of all the parks I've been to, I must say that Patrick's Point state park is my absolute favorite. It's right by the coast and Trinidad is like a 10-minute drive away.”



These dedicated volunteers describe perfectly why we volunteer and the passion we have behind this work. If we still have not convinced you to sign up for the next volunteer work day near you, know there are also some amazing incentives behind volunteering with California State Parks Foundation. Plus, really great snacks!  

Click here If you would like to know more about volunteering with California State Parks Foundation. Hopefully I will see you at a workday soon!