By Sarah Amador
When you walk through Armstrong Woods, you often see people with their eyes fixed to the sky, necks craned, catching silhouettes of treetops towering overhead. In places like this, you breathe deeper. A feeling of gratitude descends, for the trees and all they give, for their beauty, and for the stewards who protect them.
Who are the heroes of this land? Who helps keep your parks open? Who preserves the open spaces along the Russian River, from the redwoods to the ocean? Who are the guardians of the largest harbor seal rookery in Northern California?
Your hero is the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods. Without Stewards, many of your parks would not be kept open due to state budget cuts. This non-profit organization protects and restores Armstrong Redwoods State N
atural Reserve, Austin Creek State Recreation Area, Willow Creek Watershed and Sonoma Coast State Park. It supports the Armstrong and Jenner Visitor Centers.
But that’s not all they do. Stewards offers community education and school programs, nearly 20 of them. With such a diverse program menu, there is something for everyone. Additionally, the new program Explore Nature through Scie
nce (ENTS) extends outreach to high schools. In this program, students will camp at Bullfrog Pond or Pomo Canyon Campground and learn environmental education through hands-on science. There is also a new California Naturalist Certification Program.
Each year,a million visitors come to the Russian River Parks. Docents of Stewards are in direct contact with 101,000 people every year, educating and advocating conservancy. Each year, Stewards educates 5,000 school children. How much does it cost the children? For most programs, it’s free—thanks to donations and fundraising by Stewards’ members.
Executive Director Michele Luna has been with Stewards for 20 years. “Many programs came into existence from citizens and volunteers seeing a need and coming to us to see what we could do,” Luna said.
Whatever your interest, Stewards has an adventure for you. Wish to observe pinnipeds? That would be Seal Watch, one of the oldest programs. Maybe wilderness back country camping is more your thing? There’s that program too. Do you like hiking? Try Trail Cruise, and work on trail restoration twice a month. Curious about tide pools, ecology, or marine debris? Those programs exist as well.
“We really want to engage people,” Luna said. “That’s what we want to inspire— our stewardship-building. Learn through field seminar series. Be inspired to be a docent or give back. There’s everything from volunteering at Earth Day to being a part of a program.”
Programs and events are funded through fundraising, grant writing, and lots of volunteerism. Volunteers are the lifeblood of Stewards. The organization for the people is made possible by the people. Armstrong Woods is supported by more than 500 volunteers. The Citizen Science Monitoring Program consists of nearly 300 volunteers.
Stewards originated from citizens’ response to the 1985 sewage spillage in the Russian River. How would the harbor seals react? People were concerned. Luckily, the seals were smart and left. When the water was clear again, they came back. Through tracking the seals’ movements, Jenner activists learned that seals were more adversely impacted by unleashed dogs than the sewage. Thus began Seal Watch. Stewards became a cooperating association working in partnership with State Parks.
Stewards hosts events as well. Family Day was created so students can bring families back to the park and share what they have learned through the seasons. There are learning stations and free booths. It is a bilingual event.
“Some events are well-staffed,” Luna said. “Other events need more help.”
Luna and Programs Director David Berman are excited to see a younger demographic of volunteers. Groups of kids from the Rotary Club and Club Scouts are now volunteering. Luna and Berman hope that the experience will inspire children to a lifetime of volunteerism.
“I would hope to empower them to fall in love with their home and place, and take care of it,” Berman said. “To see that it is our responsibility as citizens to take care of our open spaces.”
Your hero has plans. Stewards is working to reopen closed camping areas on the Sonoma Coast. A new Mobile Marine Education Center is in the works. The vehicle will be similar in design to the Whale Bus of the Marine Mammal Center and include interpretative displays. It will travel to schools. Soon, Stewards will have an expanded presence at Bodega Bay.
When you volunteer with Stewards, it is your park that you protect and nurture. No experience? No worries, training is provided.
To schedule a group visit, volunteer, or for more information, call (707) 869-9177.
Another great article by Sarah Amador. To learn about the Stewards was very beneficial. I look foward to Sarah’s next article. Thank you!!!!