Random Thoughts

Five Things Friday

Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a very special project with the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the California State Parks system through fundraising, legislative advocacy, and volunteer work days at understaffed parks.

My husband Will currently leads the work days at our “home” park, Rio de Los Angeles, but had been tapped to coordinate and guide a group of volunteers on a two-day backpack up to Mount San Jacinto State Park. This is the only overnighter that CSPF organizes and the weekend fills up every year, even with the maximum allowed amount of volunteers doubled this year.

With how often I personally visit the parks and utilize trails all over the state, this was a small way for me to give back. Many people don’t realize that a portion of the trails they hike every year is maintained by volunteers; this includes rebuilding and reinforcing the paths, creating new paths, cutting back foliage, and diverting trails around natural features. The volunteers hike in to these trails with their backpacks and tools, and if you’re familiar with some of the trails, you know they can be quite a distance!

We “lucked out” in that our project site, Tamarack Valley, was only three miles from the trailhead with about 700 feet of elevation gain, and we were camping right where we were working. Tamarack Valley lies in the Mount San Jacinto State Wilderness at 9,200 feet. A network of trails spreads out from the designated campground, and our weekend entailed working on the trails (some of which were nearly nonexistent) and “freshening up” the outhouses (digging new holes and moving the structures — who knew that this was actually a job?).

I decided to highlight this project in a Five Things Friday post because one, I’m incredibly grateful for and impressed by the volunteers that made this event happen, and two, I hope to inspire you to give back to a community you’re passionate about, whether it’s the outdoors or even just your local garden club, food bank, animal shelter, or any cause that you strongly believe in and support. Many of us might feel encumbered by what little time we have, or think we’re stretched too thin already, but I am still amazed that it only took one weekend of work to provide years of future enjoyment for fellow hikers and campers in our state park. A little goes a long way!

If you want to spend a morning or two with wonderful people working with the California State Parks Foundation, you can join their Park Champions program as a work day volunteer. There are work days all over the state at various state parks; once you sign up, you’ll receive emails on upcoming work days and where volunteers are needed most. Their online calendar also shows scheduled work days, so you can find one closest to you. Monetary donations are great too, but bodies are always appreciated!

And now… the five little things that made my week! (You can see more photos on CSPF’s Flickr page.)

1. Though it was nearly 100°F in town, the mountain was at least 30° cooler and made for a fun, temperate hike to Tamarack Valley. Not a bad “office” for the weekend.

Deer at camp

2. One of the many deer we saw on the mountain. They came right up to our campsite!

Rebuilding the trails at Tamarack Valley

3. Rebuilding the trails around Tamarack Valley. Some of them looked like dry creek beds; it seemed that nobody had maintained them for years. To get them from the narrow, rocky, overgrown paths we found to the wide, smooth, well-marked trails we eventually created only took two days. Teamwork!

Digging a new hole for the outhouse

4. The brave, strong men digging new pits for the backcountry outhouses. They went at least 6 feet deep!

One of our newly completed trails

5. One of our newly completed trails! So honored to work with this great group of volunteers. Until next year, Park Champions!

Linda Ly About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »


  • Avatar
    Deb at Counting My Chickens
    August 22, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    What a great project. Funding for parks always seems to be one of the first things cut in a budget so it’s great that you are volunteering and spreading awareness of the need for volunteers. I always thought it would be fun to volunteer at a National Park for the summer.

    • Linda Ly
      Linda Ly
      August 25, 2014 at 10:00 pm

      Our state parks have faced the threat of closures within the last few years due to lack of funding, so for Californians, volunteers are vital to offset the costs of maintenance. This is probably true for many other parks, forests, and wilderness areas, so I highly recommend the experience if you can offer your time!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.