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Theme: Giving Back to the Parks

The Edgewood Preserve Docent Training Program

Docents: Sharing Nature with the Bay Area Community

Meeting the Land at Fairfield Osborne Preserve

Other Features

A Brief History of Bay Area Parks and Open Space
   Pt. 2: From the 1960s through the Present Day

Names on the Land
   Pt. 2, Santa Cruz County

Education Stations "Smooth" the Trails

"Dish" Argument Continues on New Terrain

Sudden Oak Death: New Victims


Letter from the Trail Center

Park News

Trail Center Notes

Upcoming Events

The Trail Companion

Winter 2001

Theme: Giving Back to the Parks

Docents: Sharing Nature with the Bay Area Community

When I arrived at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, I could see that it was a beautiful place with plentiful trees and shrubs, interesting wildlife and grasslands, tucked into the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I didn't, however, feel much of a connection to the land and the environment. I needed a bridge between my relative ignorance and the wealth of natural knowledge around me to truly appreciate the Preserve. That's precisely where Steve Hass, my docent guide, came in.
      Although the Jasper Ridge Preserve is primarily used as a research facility for scientists, from Stanford undergraduates to international scholars, the area serves other purposes as well. There are two main volunteer programs at Jasper Ridge, which serve to more efficiently involve the community with the 1200-acre plot. One of these programs is made up of Environmental Volunteers, a local peninsula group who conducts tours and discussions for thousands of area school children each year, among additional projects. The other program that brings the preserve to the public is the docent program. Created in the mid-1970s, the Jasper Ridge docent program is made up of trained volunteers who bring people from the surrounding area and increase their education and awareness of the adjacent environment while enjoying the experience of the gorgeous landscape.
      Roughly one hundred docents who come from various walks of life facilitate the program. From undergraduates to retirees, whether biologists, economists, or English majors, these volunteers all have one thing in common: their love of nature. They also share the fairly intense training required to become a docent at Jasper Ridge. After their applications are accepted, the prospective docent class goes through eighteen weeks of rigorous education and field training. For three hours a week (about half the time in the classroom and half the time outdoors), the docents study a wide range of topics, including botany, zoology, ornithology, archeology, geology, and anthropology. This broad foundation allows them to give a myriad of different tours for audiences, ranging from lay people and children to advanced scholars.
      The ways in which the docents bring the environment to the community also vary. The tours are the most obvious way in which these volunteers involve the area population with the preserve, but there exist special programs as well. One of the recent projects the Jasper Ridge docents ran was the East Side Prep Project, in which students from this struggling school district of East Palo Alto were brought out to the preserve. Not only did the program increase the students' awareness of the surrounding habitat, but it also gave them a quiet environment, free from distraction, in which they could focus on schoolwork and other personal issues. The Muwekma Indian Studies Program is another recent community undertaking carried out by the docents. In that program, community members of Muwekma descent were brought out to Jasper Ridge, and, assisted by the docents, learned more about their heritage. This included both educational and physical activities such as the construction of shelters modeled after those of their ancestors. Projects like these make up a very important aspect of the docent program at Jasper Ridge.
      When we think of those volunteers, however, the tours are normally the first things that come to mind. The docent-led walks vary depending on the audience and time of year. They often run about two and a half hours, but the distance and the level of narration change according to the age and interest level of the audience. During the walk, the docents will lead anywhere from one to ten hikers along various trails throughout the preserve. Along the tour, the docent inundates the group with interesting comments almost the entire time. They rattle off facts about the plants, rocks, and animals and tell stories such as the one in which Leland Stanford purchased the Searsville Lake Dam for one dollar. Audience is also important: a class field trip from the biology core will obviously want to have a different tour focus than a group of Hewlett Packard retirees out with their families for a Sunday afternoon stroll.
      Generally considered one of the most beautiful tours Jasper Ridge has to offer are the wildflower tours, which keep the docents busy all spring long. Community members love to come see, smell, feel, and learn about the rebirth that explodes around them every April, and according to Jasper Ridge docent Steve Hass, the docents love to accompany them. Those spring tours are the favorites for many a docent, but each also remembers their own tours they've personally enjoyed the most. Steve's favorite experience during his career as a docent occurred this past July when a group of about 90 students from Hong Kong visited Jasper Ridge. "I really enjoyed that tour," the retired economist and teacher said, "because as I was teaching these students about the preserve, they were teaching me [about their culture] as well." Such experiences make the docents want to keep guiding, motivating them to continually surpass their six tours per year requirement.
      As the sun went down over the Portola Valley and my tour of Jasper Ridge came to a close, I felt as though I had been part of the preserver that afternoon. The tour had led us through some beautiful country, and Steve's narration had been thoroughly remarkable. I could recount a few new facts about the Roble, or Coast Live Oak, and had gained the ability to describe a little bit of the plate tectonic history that has shaped the area. The docent really made me feel a connection with Jasper Ridge, delivering it to me at a level I could appreciate. "After all," I thought as I walked out the last stretch of trail, "that's what they're here for."

Kiel Renick is a first year student at Stanford University. He enjoys hiking, mountain biking, and other athletic activities. As for education, Kiel is currently undecided as to what his major will be.