We are blessed with 30 state parks in the Santa Cruz district, but a limited supply of professionals to staff them. This is especially true in the back-country where visitors can encounter problems or emergencies and be hours from help. California State Parks have had a proud tradition of working with volunteers. From docents to trail workers, volunteers are vital to the operation of the system. In 2013, a Volunteer Trail Watch Program was developed as cooperative effort between State Parks and the PCRF. The program was specifically created to support the professional rangers with back-country work in Castle Rock and Portola Redwoods State Parks. In 2016 District Parks morphed this program into two separate program –a Docent Program a specifically focused on enhancing the visitor experience and the Wilderness Patrol Program which was extended to more district parks.
Volunteer Clearing the trail
Two of the PCRF Board Members, Mujtaba Ghouse and Eric Schmidt, are Wilderness Patrol volunteers.
Eric Schmidt Profile
I joined the Wilderness Patrol program more than a year ago. I work at least one Saturday a month in Castle Rock or Portola State Park. I love this program for many reasons:
1) Having a whole State Park day on the calendar every month enables me to plan a major hike, frequently with a friend, and go deep into the parks in all seasons: cold, wet, hot, windy, sunny. Seeing interesting and beautiful plants and animals and meet other back-country enthusiasts brings me back each month.
2) As a uniformed representative of the park service, I interact with visitors, enforce the rules and assist people who may not see many others
3) I always bring tools to work on trail issues along the way. Cutting small fallen trees, trimming poison oak and clipping plants that are encroaching on the trail is rewarding.
One interesting story involved a ‘missing person’ case where the Santa Clara Sheriff reported that a tourist to Silicon Valley had planned a Friday hike in Castle Rock. On Saturday his wife reported him missing. The dispatch call came from Sacramento for a ranger in Castle Rock. While the professional Ranger met with the Sheriff, I was able to interact with back country visitors and let them know to look for the missing person. I also had a 1-hour head-start to get to the campground and other areas where he may have been. I never found the person but was able to report to the authorities the ground covered and the visitor interactions.
Mujtaba Ghouse Profile
I volunteer at Castle Rock State Park about once a month, on average. Being part of the Wilderness Patrol allows me to give back to the beautiful places I love, and also help other people enjoy them.
I’ve helped explain the trees, the rock formations, the history of the park, and the rules (dogs are not allowed in Castle Rock! but they can go across the road at Sanborn Skyline 🙂 I’ve trimmed branches and brush off trails that are relatively little used. I’m sometimes able to help visitors with directions, or with suggestions of where they might hike or camp. Recently, I ran into a family trying to hike to the trail camp while carrying heavy car camping equipment in shopping bags, and was able to point them at some alternatives.
I never get bored: the park itself changes over time, and the experiences also change depending on where I go, from the boulders by Castle Rock to the spectacular vistas of the Saratoga Gap trail, to the headwaters of the San Lorenzo, and the very different forest by the Travertine Springs.
For more information about Volunteering visit: https://www.portolaandcastlerockfound.org/volunteer/