By Randy Widera If you are currently on social media, you may be like me and have a continuous stream of friends, family members and “liked” organizations posting photos of fields of wildflowers with giddy faces grinning ear to ear in the foreground. Like a giant wave of color washing over California, moving from the southern parks of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve to the Central Coast at Rancho Del Oso Wildflower Weekend and on up to the Sierra South Yuba River, our California state parks are awash in wildflowers and visitors. As the newest member of the California State
Parks Foundation team, I find it meaningful that my first days are heralded by all these floral images of our state parks. This is because I began my career as a park admirer leading wildflower hikes as a volunteer docent at Wilder Ranch. At Wilder, the park interpreters and rangers instilled in me a passion for natural and cultural history and inspired me to share that passion with others. This led me to establish the Web Of Life Field (WOLF) School. At WOLF, we would take school children from central and Northern California on camping experiences throughout the park system. We would experience Native Californian culture at Indian Grinding Rock, walk through the “tragic tailings” of the Gold Rush at Malakoff Diggins, hold a newt at Armstrong Redwoods and sit quietly under thousands of clustering monarch butterflies at Natural Bridges. It was through these experiences that I learned of the indelible impression these park experiences have on children — and how they shape a sense of positive self identity. I moved on from the WOLF School to Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks for the next ten years where I had the opportunity to partner deeply with local state park staff, develop innovative partnership models and collaborate to fund and support one of the leading interpretive programs in the state park system. Though I was able to grow Friends from two to seventy employees while raising over $10 million for park programs and projects, and launched the nationally recognized “That's My Park” campaign, still my favorite day was when I would lead the annual member wildflower walk at Wilder Ranch.
For the past ten years I have been consulting and supporting park partner nonprofits from every corner of this diverse and amazing state. From the North (Redwood Parks Conservancy), East (Bodie Foundation), West (Mountain Parks Foundation), South (Anza-Borrego Foundation) and all the places in between, I have logged hours and miles helping boards, staff and their state park partners sustain and build their organizations. All the while, I've hiked and explored nearly every one of the 280 state park units, getting to know the individual parks, their precious resources and the dedicated people who care for them. Of course, with my camera slung over my shoulder, I would venture out to capture what wildflowers I could find. From the volunteers, to the nonprofit partners, to the state park staff and park advocates of every kind, my entire career has allowed me to gain an understanding and appreciation for the immense dedication, creativity, ingenuity and resilience that these park protectors bring to our California state park system every day. Just like the wildflowers that spring forth every year, our parks would not be the the same without them. As state park visitors and Californians, we all owe immeasurable gratitude to every steward of our parkland treasures. Now, as California State Park Foundation’s Director of Philanthropy, I have the responsibility and privilege to join with everyone who values our state parks and bring greater support and resources to their work. As a supporter for California State Parks Foundation, I hope that you will continue to join us in this effort to preserve and protect our state park system. As Tom Petty sings, “You belong among the wildflowers.” I look forward to seeing you in our state parks!