Amanda’s California Adventures Visiting PLA Members

By Amanda Keith posted 06-14-2017 14:56



This spring, I had the opportunity to leave the office desk in Silver Spring, MD behind and stretch my legs on California’s public lands for two weeks. This opportunity was part professional development and part outreach to the nonprofits that serve public lands in the northern and central parts of the state.

As Marketing and Communications Manager for the Public Lands Alliance, I read stories about the great work these nonprofits do, and I hear first-hand about their progress at the convention and trade show, but meeting with them and listening to them on-site was truly eye-opening.

From San Francisco, up to Redding, and on down to Three Rivers, CA, I met with cooperating associations, friends groups, conservancies and foundations that take on the herculean task of raising funds to support their site while leading efforts to enrich the visitor experience.

For my first stop, I visited with Rosie the Riveter Trust and met the nation’s oldest park ranger.

Across the bay from San Francisco, Richmond is home to the old shipyards, assembly plants and 1940s housing that supported thousands who were part of the workforce during WWII. The Rosie the Riveter WWII / Home Front National Historical Park includes several sites in the area that tell of the story of how people lived and worked together, and how women especially played a powerful role in building defense for the war.

Rosie the Riveter Trust is the friends group that supports this park through education programs, fundraising campaigns, and retail sales at the Oil House Visitor Center. I had the opportunity to learn about their youth program, Rosie’s Girls last year, but by visiting with their Executive Director, Marsha Mather-Thrift, I gained a better sense of the many projects they are leading to both promote the park and promote the “We Can Do It,” Rosie the Riveter message.


One of Rosie the Riveter Trust’s latest projects is a fundraiser to create a 30-minute film on the life and experiences of Ranger Betty Reid Soskin. Ranger Betty has received wide attention as the oldest National Park Service ranger, and she was one of the first people to greet me as I walked into the Oil House Visitor Center. At 95 years-old, she conducts tours of the park and serves as an interpreter, telling the story of the African-American wartime experience.


The next stop on my list was a visit north to Lassen Volcanic National Park to meet Lassen Park Foundation and Lassen Association.

This park is a hidden gem that sits an hour east of Redding, CA. It’s known for its tall peaks, active hydrothermal areas, alpine lakes and wildflowers.


I first drove to the Loomis Museum near Manzanita Lake to visit with Jennifer Finnegan, Executive Director with the Lassen Park Foundation. She led me on a tour of one of their most recent projects, the construction of the Volcano Adventure Campground.

For 19 years, the foundation has led a youth camping program to bring at-risk or underserved children to the park. The foundation provides small grants to nonprofit youth organizations and, this past year, they also played a major role in the construction of a youth-focused campground with tent cabins and facilities that make camping accessible for first-time campers.

Afterward, I drove to the south-side of the park to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center where the park sits at a higher elevation and had an impressive snowpack. Lassen Association, which operates retail at both the Loomis Museum and the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, was ready to go with its retail operations, despite the fact that the center itself was hidden in snow!


Back on the road, I drove to Yosemite National Park to visit with Yosemite Conservancy, and to spend a few days wandering the park.

Yosemite is a well-known destination, complete with jaw-dropping granite peaks, lush meadows, waterfalls, and of course, crowds of people. The weekend I spent there was no exception. The support that Yosemite Conservancy gives to the park, however, makes this popular park more accessible and enjoyable. This year, the conservancy placed information tents throughout the park and staffed the tents with volunteers that greet visitors and help them find their way around the park.


And, even though there were crowds, the park was just as beautiful.


Onward from Yosemite, I drove to Hollister, CA to Pinnacles National Park, to meet with Pinnacles Partnership.

Pinnacles National Park is known for its towering rock spires, unique caves, and as the home to a growing population of California Condors. To fully appreciate this landscape, the Executive Director of Pinnacles Partnership, Jenn Westphal, and I hiked a section of the park's craggy perimeter. When we reached the High Peaks, we could see the Salinas Valley and Monterrey on one side, and then, on the other side, we saw a tree of roosting condors.


Condors in the park have GPS tags on their wings as part of a project to monitor condor populations. Pinnacles Partnership helps support the park by raising awareness about California Condors and by providing technical equipment to monitor activity. These birds are the largest land birds in North America and are critically endangered.


For a final stop on my whirl-wind California tour, I drove to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

These parks encompass iconic giant sequoia trees, green meadows, and vast mountain views. The Sequoia Parks Conservancy helps support both parks through retail operations, a field institute, and educational and fundraising programs. I was there to visit as Mark Tilchen, long-time Executive Director for the conservancy said his farewells to staff and partners as he began his retirement. Karen Dallett, the new Executive Director (formerly with Glen Canyon Natural History Association) has already embraced her leadership role and the conservancy looks to further support for a busy summer season ahead.


In visiting the land of giant trees, I also quickly realized how tricky it was to photograph them due to their immense size.


A Sense of Gratitude from this California Trip

This photo blog showcases a tiny fraction of what these nonprofit partners do for their awe-inspiring lands and to ensure visitors have unique and unforgettable experiences. These nonprofits rise to the challenges their public lands face and they respond to the needs of their land management partners. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from them and to gain an appreciation for these special places they serve. The collective impact of these nonprofits alone is impressive; as part of a greater network through the PLA membership, the impact of public land nonprofits is extraordinary. Thank you to all of the nonprofits and agency staff who met with me on this trip. For those of you I didn't have a chance to visit -- I hope to see you soon!