How partnership benefits state parks

Rachel Norton, Executive Director DSC_0188

When you think of California’s incredible state parks, you probably think about special places you love – beaches, deserts, redwood forests, lakes and rivers, as well as so many historical and cultural treasures. I think about these special places, too, but I also think about the incredible partner organizations – many staffed only by volunteers – that support and nurture them.

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a day with representatives of almost 50 organizations that do great work in our state parks at our annual Park Partner Summit. When we connect partner organizations and work towards shared priorities, we mobilize and strengthen the state park movement.

This annual convening is a chance for us to connect and collaborate with like-minded partners – and to facilitate trainings and the sharing of tools and strategies to help build their organizational effectiveness. This year, park partners worked with consultants at Department of Here to learn to tell compelling stories about their work as passionate advocates on behalf of California’s state parks.

We also made sure attendees got lots of time to talk and share ideas and resources, because we know that being a part of a community of park supporters makes every organization stronger, including ours.  In our vision for the future, every one of our 280 state parks is surrounded by a community of support, because great parks really need great partners like the ones at our summit.

Through our work with partners, we focus on three key values:

1. Stewardship

MWCA MOSS group photo 2018

Photo courtesy of Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association

State parks belong to everyone. They must remain open and accessible, today and for generations to come – and educating the public about the experiences available in parks helps build the engagement and support they need.

For example, California State Parks Foundation provided funding to Mendocino Outdoor Science School, a program of the nonprofit Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association. During weeklong overnight trips,  students from all kinds of schools across Northern California experience and care for nature through discovery-based learning.

2. Connection

CSPF_Chino Hills_4

Photo courtesy of Outdoor Outreach

High-quality outreach and interpretation programs are essential to attracting new visitors and building familiarity and trust between the community and their state parks.

Environmental education nonprofit Outdoor Outreach used their California State Park Foundation grant to expand their work outside of their home-base in San Diego for the first time. Three overnight camping trips to Chino Hills State Park provided first-time park experiences  and a chance to connect away outside of school for 24 youth from high-poverty backgrounds.

3. Relevance


Photo courtesy Clockshop

Local communities must see themselves reflected in the activities and programs offered in their parks, and feel warmly welcomed to participate.

In Los Angeles, multidisciplinary arts organization Clockshop used the grant we awarded them for family field days at The Bowtie Project, a partnership between Clockshop and the Department of Parks and Recreation designed to create new conversations about art, politics and public space along the Los Angeles River.

By supporting California State Parks Foundation, you help support these incredible state park champions and their work to make our parks excellent, accessible and relevant to all Californians. We are grateful for your support – our partners are too!

My 2019 intention

By Rachel Norton, Executive Director


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!