California has 280 beautiful state parks, though many need consistent, sustainable volunteer to support to help maintain that beauty. Our Park Champions program was created to help with just that. Last year we hosted workdays in over 50 state parks across California, and this past year we were thrilled to be able to add new parks to that list!
One of these parks was Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Thanks to the artful planning by park staff and the energy and enthusiasm of our volunteers, we were able to complete over 140 feet of fencing, exceeding expectations and achieving a marked visual impact at the McCoy House. We caught up with Philip Oakley Otto, our Southern California Field Consultant, to talk to him about first workdays and what goes into bringing a new park into the Park Champions program.
Could you describe the process of getting a park to sign on for a Park Champions workday?
Philip: A huge part of Park Champions’ success lies in our relationships with the Department of Parks and Recreation staff. After some phone calls and emails with our park contact, I’ll schedule a site visit with them to get to know the park and see the projects they’ve identified as possible Park Champions undertakings.
What are your responsibilities around a first workday?
Philip: I work with park staff and volunteer Core Leaders to develop the workplan and order any supplies, tools or rentals needed for the workday. I like to attend the first workday at a new park, but thanks to the amazing support of our Core Leader superstars, I’m often playing more of a supporting role, learning about the individual park dynamics and thinking about any areas of improvement for future workdays.
Do first workdays differ in any way from established workdays?
Philip: We have some amazing super regular volunteers who are always excited to visit and volunteer in a “new” park. There’s definitely some extra excitement and talking in the morning kickoff as the workday team and I make acknowledgements and introduce the park and project. There are also typically first-time volunteers for whom the new park afforded the discovery of the Park Champions volunteer program.
Why do you believe it is important to have new parks join the Park Champions program?
Philip: We have 280 State Parks in California. Park Champions is active in over 50 of those, but there are still many more that could benefit from the help of our hardworking and enthusiastic Park Champion volunteers.
What has been your favorite first workday you have participated in?
Philip: Picacho State Recreation area, a remote park on the Colorado river (closest town: Yuma, AZ) has a special place in my heart. As part of the site visit to plan the first workday, the ranger took us up river in a pontoon boat which provided an ideal vantage for viewing the extent of the park, much of which is only (easily) assessable from the river. A few miles up, we got out and floated back down to the campground. Our first workday weekend, which focused on campground maintenance and fencing installation, included a sunset hike through the rocky terrain that reminded me of Joshua Tree but with epic views of the Colorado river and multiple close sightings of wild burros.
Interested in joining the excitement of a Park Champions workday? Click here to register for an upcoming workday near you!