Though we miss being in Balboa Park and seeing our volunteers’ daily smiles, there’s still plenty to be grateful for. In fact, we have hundreds of very good reasons to celebrate National Volunteer Week (April 19–25) this year as we now count 566 volunteers among our ranks! The 2019 calendar year also saw two highly impactful volunteer initiatives take flight. Logging 13,834 total hours in 2019, our volunteers contributed more than $400,000 worth of service to Balboa Park and the Conservancy.

Our corps of 46 trained Tree Stewards have helped us fulfill our $378,000 CAL FIRE grant to plant more than 600 trees in Balboa Park, as they continue to monitor these valuable environmental resources. Putting in over 700 hours of service, our Tree Stewards have also led teams of tree planters at the inaugural Plant It Forward event and participated in tree-planting events with SDG&E, CUBIC, and i.d.e.a.

One dedicated group of about 30 Tree Stewards has been participating in weekly “maintenance parties” to perform vital tree maintenance. They spend hours weeding, mulching, installing stakes, and identifying other needs to support the growth and survival of young and newly planted trees in different zones of the park. We would especially like to recognize the following Tree Stewards:

Brad Brown
Elizabeth Gonzalez
Krystal Guerrero-Gracia
Pat Hendrickson
Saundra Holloway
Lynn Langley
David Lubbs
Rick Manley
Stefania Marzano
Derek Meadows
Jorge Morales
Michael Muschett
Maurice Muschett
Jon Pinter
Holly Pinter
Marjorie Wahlsten
Susan White

But these aren’t the only volunteers who keep coming back for more. Our Tree Stewards retention rate is 88% since inception, with most departures due to geographic relocation or changing professional obligations.

Our new Park Ambassador program is seeing a similar high retention rate (60%), with departures mainly due to retirement or relocation. Stationed at high-traffic hubs inside the park, Park Ambassadors greet park visitors, providing essential and timely information about special events, park attractions, directions and parking, visitor services and amenities, and more. Working in pairs in four-hour shifts, the Ambassadors racked up more than 1,700 total service hours in 2019. Like the Tree Steward corps, Park Ambassadors are a truly diverse group, ranging from 25 to 80 years in age and representing a broad cross-section of socioeconomic categories, races, and ethnicities. 

Five Park Ambassadors in particular went the extra mile last year, pulling the most shifts, assisting the most visitors, and logging the most hours:

Bruce Madewell (194 hours)
Phill Hinkle (168 hours)
Gary Wasden (160 hours)
Christa Vragel (123 hours)
Jean Stein (115 hours)

Thanks to the unqualified success of the Tree Steward and Park Ambassador programs, we are confident our next major volunteer initiative, Garden Stewards, will likewise make valuable contributions in supporting Parks and Recreation’s efforts to maintain the park’s many gardens. Stay tuned for details.

Of course the backbone of our volunteer services is still the 69 volunteers greeting and orienting park visitors at the information desk inside the Balboa Park Visitors Center every day. They put in the most hours of all volunteer categories and generate the most economic impact, contributing over $300,000 worth of volunteer service last year. 

We are extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of all our volunteers and congratulate our top five contributors for 2019:

Ron Oliver (517 hours)
Phil Hinkle (380 hours)
Betsey Gowing (369 hours)
Priscilla Cragin (402 hours)
Mary Falwell (312 hours)

Another growing category is our team of special events volunteers. In partnership with Parks and Recreation, the Balboa Park Conservancy hosts more than two dozen food truck events each year, as well as festivals celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Halloween, and Kate Sessions. Drawing larger and larger crowds every year, these fun, family-friendly park activation and community events would not be possible without volunteer support. Our event volunteers also continue to help make December Nights a memorable holiday tradition for hundreds of thousands of people.

National Volunteer Week is of course also the perfect time to recognize significant anniversary milestones achieved by the Conservancy’s volunteers. In era when many people don’t stay in the same career or work for the same company for 20 years, we feel especially honored by those volunteers who reached their 20-year milestone this past year:

Elaine Bonk
Pam Crooks
Roberta ‘Bobbi’ Eklund
Ellie Jett
Roselyn Snell

Other important milestones achieved in the past year include:

15 years
Tom Minnich

10 years
Alice Colgate
Sondra Kelley
Don Spangler
Davene Yeck

5 years
Jo Anne Bryan
Marshall Cohen
Priscilla Cragin
Mary Hughes
Barney Malesky
Ron Oliver 

The Balboa Park Conservancy’s ability to enhance the visitor experience and improve park accessibility through our volunteer initiatives is made possible with generous support from our Conservator’s Circle donors and members and funding from:

AmeriCorps
Art Pratt Foundation of Old Mission Rotary
County of San Diego, Community Enhancement Program
David C. Copley Foundation
Jewish Family Service
The San Diego Foundation: The Weekes Balboa Park Fund

If you’d like to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Balboa Park Conservancy, please visit the Volunteer page.