About CalParks

Nonprofit dedicated to protecting, enhancing and advocating for California's magnificent state parks.

Park Champions Appreciation Month: Why I volunteer

Guest blog post from Core Leader Holly Brett

Holly Brett 1I started volunteering with the Park Champions volunteer program five years ago. My first workday was at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook – a newer state park I hadn’t even known existed despite it being smack in the middle of Los Angeles.

Why had it taken me so long to join a workday? I found it invigorating to dig into the soil and experience nature on a new level. This is something I was yearning for after working for years in an office environment. I felt invested in my community – creating a more beautiful park for all to enjoy. And thanks to the completely contagious passion of our fearless leader and native habitat enthusiast, Margaret Oakley Otto (Southern California field coordinator), restoration of natural habitats that are needed to support local ecosystems became a concern of mine as well.

Margaret inspired me to become more involved. I signed up to take native habitat and native plant classes. I also signed up to become a Core Leader so that I could help lead work days. Volunteering with Park Champions has been a completely gratifying experience. Not only do I feel accomplished after a few hours in my local, and not so local, state parks, I have met some wonderful people along the way. One particularly engaging eighth grader interested in improv made a lasting impression on me at a work day in Topanga State Park – improv? how very LA!

Holly Brett 4

I have made friends with some dynamic and diverse people who share the commitment to serve our parks. I am grateful that so many volunteers return month after month to invest their time, spirit and energy improving our parks so that the community at large can enjoy the wonderful California state park system.

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.

Core Leader Q&A: Louie Matterelli

Louie Mattarelli (Core Leader)_Moment 2

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 Matterelli, 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.