Spring Break in the Golden Gate
Spring break day 2: Planted native grasses to restore habitat for the endangered San Francisco garter snake. Talked with volunteer coordinator Ryan Jones about working with community volunteers. Walked through some of the Presidio’s restored sites, learning about their history and future.
Not a student’s typical spring break. But this was just the beginning of the six jam-packed days that made up the new recreation course on National Park Service Learning. Billed as an alternative spring break, the course enabled students to experience service as a community engagement strategy in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
“With this class, two things were unique,” said Emilyn Sheffield, Recreation and Parks Management. “One, we had an extended field school at the Golden Gate National Parks, so the students could invest the majority of spring break in service to the national parks. Two, we compressed the format. The recreation and parks management department is interested in serving student needs in new ways, so class meetings were clustered around spring break and the trip.”
The Friday before spring break, six students arrived at Muir Woods to get a personal tour from Park Ranger Mia Monroe, Muir Woods site supervisor. Muir Woods is celebrating 100 years as a national monument this year, and as the students walked with Monroe, she told the historical and environmental tale of the last remaining old-growth redwood forest in the Bay Area. Monroe also explained the various ways park staff involve visitors and community members—the walking tour was prompted by a fun educational pamphlet called “Growing Communities” that takes visitors on an adventure “quest” through the woods.
While Muir Woods was a class favorite, the students visited a wide range of park sites on both sides of the Golden Gate Bridge, including native plant nurseries, Presidio locations, beach trails, and various military forts, with Alcatraz Island as the culminating experience. The students’ interactions with park personnel ranged from student interns to park rangers and Conservancy program leaders to the superintendent of the 76,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Staff from the three primary GGNRA partners—National Park Service, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and Presidio Trust—helped the students to become immersed in the parks experience.
“I was surprised at how much hands-on work we were able to do and how many higher-ups were so enthusiastic about this,” said Tommy Baggett, a junior recreation administration major. “I never expected to see the superintendent, let alone talk with him for over an hour. And to get a personal tour of Muir Woods and behind-the-scenes contact at Alcatraz! It gave us a very realistic look at what they do.”
The students worked alongside the program managers, interns, and community volunteers, doing such activities as planting native species and maintaining trails—often at some of the most historical and awe-inspiring spots in the Golden Gate. While digging up weeds and pick-axing in hard dirt may not seem like much fun, the students took to the work with gusto and took in the sights during their breaks. They also talked at length with the parks staff and volunteers, gaining insights into how the programs work and what keeps volunteers coming back year after year.
“Community-based stewardship is more than just a fancy way to say volunteers,” said recreation administration junior Ondrej Macejko. “It is a way to engage the public and connect them with their natural and cultural resources and, as a result, help conserve and protect these resources. All the varying leadership styles were directed toward the same goal of connecting people with natural resources.”
During the field class, two of the students became interested in pursuing internships at the Golden Gate National Parks. “Trails Forever caught my attention right away,” said recreation administration junior Che Garcia. “The programming side of their work was like a jigsaw falling into place; so many pieces of it fit perfectly.”
Sheffield said that hands-on learning seems to work extremely well with CSU, Chico students. “I would like to see us expand this program,” said Sheffield. “We have such a blessing of parks and protected places in California, and environmentally aware students—students who understand issues in a different way because of their involvement and service and who have a lifelong knowledge base of how to get involved and give back and make a very tangible difference.”
Click here to go to the slideshow of Spring Break in the Golden Gate
—Marion Harmon, Public Affairs and Publications