Our Park Champions volunteer program would not be possible if it was not for our Core Leaders, especially dedicated people who donate their time to make sure every work day runs smoothly. One of these amazing Core Leaders is Louie Mattarelli, who began his Park Champions journey as volunteer in Northern California. After relocating to San Diego, he took the steps to become a Core Leader, helping parks across California from as far north as Fort Ross State Historic Park to Picacho State Recreation Area in the south. Louie recently answered a few questions on why he became a Park Champions volunteer to what advice he might have for anyone considering joining the program.
How did you first get involved with Park Champions?
In 2015 I took the California Naturalists program held at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Northern California, where I lived at the time. While there, I was a State Parks VIP volunteer where I monitored the harbor seals during birthing time at nearby Jenner. This led to volunteering for various local environmental nonprofits, and eventually Park Champions.
Why did you decide to be Core Leader?
I have never had any kind of leadership position in my life, but when I saw the need for what we do for the state parks, and how important that is for the future, I wanted to help out, and Core Leaders were needed to keep this going. The volunteers are very self-reliant, and love the work, so it’s not a hard job to lead. Plus, we have lots of fun, and the free lunch is very much appreciated.
Why are state parks important to you?
I think that any open space should be saved now from future development. But, we also need to preserve the designated spaces like state parks, since we now know that they can be snatched up and taken away.
What’s a great memory you have volunteering in state parks?
Volunteers built an ewaa, which is a traditional shelter of the Kumeyaay Tribe of Southern California, at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park near San Diego.
Do you have a favorite park to volunteer in?
My favorite park right now is Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla, which is on the coast so the views and park features are very beautiful.
How has the Park Champions program helped your favorite park?
Torrey Pines has acquired an extension to the park, which is open space in the middle of a residential neighborhood. We keep this area maintained by planting natives and removing invasive plants, so an otherwise ”dirt lot” is now a beautiful thriving park for the residents to enjoy.
If someone asked what the benefits of volunteering with Park Champions are, what would you say to them?
The reward of knowing that you are helping to save the parks. The extra benefits are a free lunch, making new friends that care about the environment like you, and seeing the difference a group of volunteers can make with the work they do.
It’s also a way to see parks that you might not get a chance to see. With perks like free parking and free camping at some parks during volunteer work days, and sometimes you get to see areas in the park that are off limits to regular visitors.
Do you have any words of thanks you would like to share with Park Champions?
I want to thank each and every person that has ever come out to help, especially the ones that come back time after time. Every pair of hands makes a difference, especially when we put them all together.
This June, we’re celebrating the hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers from across California that tirelessly donate their time and work to improve the quality, safety and preservation of our state parks with Park Champions Appreciation Month! Follow the celebration on social media with the hashtag #ParkChampions and read more blog posts here.