Volunteers are ‘the very soul’ of GGNRA


Self-described inner-city kid hooked on parks after working at GGNRA.

The 75,500-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area has always broken new ground, starting with its establishment in the 1970s as one of the country’s first urban national parks and continuing today with its unparalleled success in luring city dwellers. The sweeping park, home to such well-known attractions as Muir Woods and Alcatraz Island, now boasts more than twice the number of volunteer hours every year as any other national park in the United States and 40 times more than the average. This outpouring of support has allowed the park and its partners to alternately restore and expand the huge open space through an untold numbers of projects and programs, even in tough budget times. Last year, the 414,000 hours donated by more than 20,000 volunteers were equivalent to the work from about 200 full-time employees. Perhaps the overwhelming involvement isn’t surprising. After all, the park traces its existence back more than a century to the generosity of a Bay Area resident, and it was later established as a national park because of efforts by community members. “Volunteerism at Golden Gate national park began 100 years ago, when William Kent volunteered his time, and subsequently his money, to purchase and save Muir Woods and give it as a gift to the federal government,” said Greg Moore, executive director of the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy, the park’s nonprofit partner. “It’s a deep tradition here. It’s in the very soul of this park.” Last year, volunteers cleaned up beaches, restored trails, helped gather more than 1 million seeds and grew thousands of plants, conducted research on raptors and other birds of prey, and led tours and educational programs. Some dropped in for a morning and others went through hours of training. People also gave their time to sit on advisory boards and help with other administrative functions, said Denise Shea, assistant director of volunteer management at the conservancy. “At this point, volunteers are pretty much engaged at every level and division of the park,” she said. “Golden Gate is really considered a leader and innovator in terms of engaging the community as a whole. It’s the only way parks will be around in the future.” The National Park Service works closely with the conservancy, as well as the Presidio Trust – the federal agency overseeing the former military base – to coordinate the scores of volunteer opportunities, which range from three-hour beach cleanups to yearlong internships. The success has made the park a model for other national parks, said Golden Gate National Recreation Area volunteer manager Kerry Kreidler. “On a pretty constant basis we get park employees traveling out here, and associations connected to other parks, to look at what they can do,” she said. Volunteers come back again and again- on average at least six times a year. Many start by dropping in for a few hours on a weekend to help pull weeds or pick up trash, including Vinny Lopes, a 16-year-old sophomore at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco. “I started three years ago,” he said, “because my mom made me. But it ended up being so much fun. … I try to do it every week.” Lopes started doing weeding and other habitat work in the Presidio, then parlayed his experience into a summer internship. He’s also encouraged his friends to help and is thinking about studying biology in college. “I think last year I got a different friend every week for three months straight,” he said. “The Presidio is my backyard, it’s just a couple blocks away, and it’s fun to go out there with friends and say, ‘I know what plant this is, I planted it,’ or ‘I pulled this weed.’ ” On the other end of the age spectrum is Jack Mona, a 74-year-old San Franciscan who cleans up China Beach once a month with an old high school buddy. “Being a native son, there’s a pride in keeping the beaches clean,” said Mona. “I retired in 1993, and this keeps me busy, healthy and active.” Some volunteers never leave, such as 34-year-old U.S. Park Ranger Eric LaSalle. LaSalle was a high school student in Oakland when the Student Conservation Association, another parks service partner, tapped him for a summer internship in Yosemite National Park. It was the first time the self-described inner-city kid had been exposed to the park system, and he was hooked. A year later, he began volunteering at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. He returned all through college and four years ago became a park ranger. “It was a way to get away from the issues of Oakland,” he said. “It was a different way of life. I had never known there to be a place with such beauty.” To get involved Below are some volunteer opportunities. For more information on the programs and other opportunities, visit parksconservancy.org/help/volunteer.asp, call (415) 561-3077 or e-mail [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . For more information on the Presidio, call (415) 561-5333 or e-mail [email protected] e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . — Planting Season in the Parks, November through March. Restoration planting projects in San Mateo, San Francisco and Marin counties. — Teens on Trails, Jan. 19 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) and Feb. 16 (Presidents Day), 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. A teens-only project in Marin County, the Presidio, San Francisco and San Mateo County. — Muir Woods Earth Day Celebration, Feb. 7, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Annual event includes planting, habitat restoration, weed removal and more throughout the Redwood Creek Watershed. — In the Presidio, join habitat restoration work every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Meet at the Crissy Field Center at 9 a.m. — Help improve trails throughout the Presidio every Tuesday from noon to 3 p.m. Call for more information. Volunteerism at the Golden Gate recreation area 414,000: number of hours donated in 2007 20,000: number of volunteers last year 10,000: typical number of hours donated to other national parks per year 3,600: number of hours that nine volunteers spent monitoring trails last year 224: number of kids who participated in the Teens on Trails program last year 41,500: number of native plants restored at Lands End in 2007 Source: Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Golden Gate Parks Conservancy E-mail Marisa Lagos at [email protected] This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle


Student Conservation Association