My 2019 intention

By Rachel Norton, Executive Director

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Coping with the everyday cares and stresses of parenting, work and life can really wear me down, and one of the promises I made to myself in 2018 was to focus more effort on self-care: eating better, getting enough sleep and exercise – the usual stuff. And I did pretty well at that, most weeks at least.

But in reflecting on the times I felt most joyful last year, I realized there were some common threads: spending time with friends and people I love, of course, and spending time in nature. I’ve written about some of those experiences, like the state parks road trip I took with my mom and sister last summer, and a visit to Mendocino state parks with my daughter. There were other trips, too, like a magical weekend on British Columbia’s Pender Island and three days in the Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California.

Even when all I can manage to squeeze in is a walk to the beach near my apartment, I always feel happier and calmer afterwards. And it’s not just me . . . it’s science! For example, a 2015 Stanford study found that people who walked for 90 minutes in nature, as opposed to city streets, exhibited decreased activity in a part of the brain associated with depression. In some areas, doctors are even prescribing park visits as a powerful mental and physical health intervention.

Science is great, and yet really all I had to do was go back to the family photo album to remind myself of the joy that nature can bring. The picture at the top of this post is my daughter Jackie, now 19, splashing joyfully in the Tuolumne River when she was around age six. Anyone who has ever experienced a mountain river in June knows that they are ice cold. But that never bothered Jackie, and it never bothered me when I was younger either. (The Pacific Ocean off Northern California beaches is never much warmer than 55 degrees, but I remember splashing happily in the waves at Stinson Beach every Christmastime as a child – you just have to “get used to it,” i.e., get numb. Brrr!)

So, my intention for 2019 is even more simple than the one I made for 2018. It is to remember that I find great joy in nature, just like Jackie. I will hold this picture with me as I explore more of California’s amazing natural spaces, and especially state parks, this year!

What’s your intention for 2019? I’d love to read it in the comments!

The transformative power of planting season

LASHP Park Champions (7)

Melissa Potts at Los Angeles State Historic Park

By Melissa Potts, Programs Coordinator

I confess…. I LOVE plants. Before joining California State Parks Foundation in September, I was a park interpreter for three years. Interpreter in the parks world means that it was my job to learn about the natural environment and California’s history and share that knowledge with park visitors.  I was astounded to find that no matter what my topic was, I could find a way to tell that story by talking about plants!

Plants are the foundation of a healthy ecosystem, supporting a variety of wildlife – everything from the smallest insects to the largest mammals. They transport us to the past when we learn that humans once utilized our native plants for food, shelter and medicine.

Plants also have the power to bring people together and build community in our state parks. This coming together of community is the power that drives California State Parks Foundation’s volunteer program. We’re currently entering a special time of year that seems to get volunteers of all ages excited: between now and March, it’s planting season!

The weather is cooling down and there is promise of rainfall, which means that

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Melissa assisting a volunteer with planting at Los Angeles State Historic Park

volunteers across the state will gear up with gloves, tools and their very own native plants – all supplies provided by California State Parks Foundation – to put in the ground. Volunteers, whether first-timers or planting pros, will gather together to learn a few planting tips before beginning:

Step 1: Dig the hole. If it hasn’t rained recently, the soil may be dry and compacted, so be prepared because this could take a while. You can pair up with a friend for this endeavor or make a new one!

Step 2: Get the measurements just right – your plant can’t be in a hole that’s too shallow or too deep

Step 3: It’s time to place your plant in the hole and gently fill it in with dirt.

Step 4: Your plant’s first watering is the MOST important one, so be generous.

Step 5:  It’s likely we have a few hundred more plants, so if you’d like, repeat!

You may find later, that somewhere between steps 1-5 you became invested. Many volunteers who return to the park take a detour just to check up on the little plant they put in the ground months before. There is a pride in seeing the plants flourish and even a tinge of worry when they look a bit ragged.

Planting season is fun for volunteers and while the land is transformed, it seems volunteers walk away a little changed, too. For some, it was the first time digging a hole or smelling a sage plant. Our returning volunteers love to be able to give back to their parks. Elementary school students experienced a completely different kind of field trip – they loved to take extra time to name their plants and put rocks around their newly planted buckwheat, so they can come back and show their parents.  Others find that it strengthens and creates connections to the parks – it makes you feel like it really is your park.  These connections are what makes planting season so special and it reminds us all that the beauty of our state parks is that they all belong to all of us.

Experience this special connection in person by registering for a volunteer day near you. See our calendar and map of upcoming parks and dates here.