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IRC Partners with Orange Coast District of California State Parks on Volunteer Program

PictureCrystal Cove State Park, part of the Orange Coast District of California State parks and the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks

Recently Irvine Ranch Conservancy partnered with the Orange Coast District of California State Parks to address the next evolution of the Orange Coast District volunteer program.  Volunteers are critical to the long-term success of parks within the district.  Their efforts support thousands of campers through camp host activities, keep nature centers and visitor centers open to educate visitors, clean and maintain trails and beaches, and assist in scientific monitoring, among many other activities designed to connect the community with parks in the Orange Coast District.  According to Blythe Wilson, Regional Interpretive Specialist with the Orange Coast District of California State Parks, “all of these efforts make lasting impacts and provide exponential value to the district as a whole.  For example, volunteers accounted for more than $3 million of donated time to the Orange Coast District in 2019 alone.”

However, volunteer programs and opportunities can vary from park to park making it difficult for some volunteers to take full advantage of the program.  As a result, staff identified the need to create a consistent and comprehensive Volunteer Management Plan that could be used across all the various parks within the district.  After putting out an RFP for the plan, the Orange Coast District decided to partner with Irvine Ranch Conservancy because of their proven track record of success with the management of both the Irvine Ranch Conservancy Volunteer Program, and the OC Parks Volunteer Program.

After a thorough review and analysis of the current program, Irvine Ranch Conservancy staff presented a new management plan that strives to improve the volunteer experience.  The first step will be creating and implementing a streamlined registration and training process with the hopes of converting more interested people into trained and certified volunteers.  Improved training will help new volunteers better understand California State Parks and their role in supporting the land and visitors.  The plan also outlines ways to provide enriching experiences, and making them more accessible, for the volunteers once they are in the program.  “I am excited to have a tool to help guide our future management decisions and highlight the contributions and importance of our volunteers,” said Wilson.

The benefits of this plan go beyond the Orange Coast District.  Cooperating organizations that help support the various parks will benefit from the consistent approach to volunteer management, allowing them to focus and maximize their impact on the parks.  The plan should also benefit the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks.  Crystal Cove State Park includes critical coastal and marine habitats essential to the overall health and functionality of ecosystems throughout the landmarks.  However, the biggest benefit will be to the volunteers.  “I love the outdoors and volunteering gives me the ability to share that love with our community,” said volunteer Fran Howard. “I feel this partnership and plan will help the Orange Coast District of California State Parks move to the next level in helping volunteers communicate and sign up for activities.”  For more information on the Orange Coast District of California State parks, visit https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=21288.