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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Hand in Hand | 07-20-2016
Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
September 25
1970 - Lagasse family helps save Mentryville buildings as Newhall and Malibu brush fires erupt & join into worst fire in SoCal history. Twelve fires over 10 days burn 525,000 acres, kill 13 people and destroy approx. 1,500 structures. [story]

Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Wednesday, Jul 20, 2016

evelynevandersande_mugWhen your car leaves Placerita Canyon Road to enter Placerita Canyon Natural Area, you pass a large sign that says, “County of Los Angeles, Department of Parks and Recreation, in Partnership with California State Parks.”

What does it all mean?

Quite simply, the land is owned by the state, and the county manages the park.

The docents are here to work hand-in-hand with county employees to help with many different programs.

I must say, we are quite lucky. Many state parks do not use volunteers any more, or they have been left to conduct fundraising activities to help the park – which is not very interesting.

At Placerita, the volunteers from the Placerita Canyon Nature Center Associates are known to provide school tours for thousands of elementary school kids each year and are responsible for different educational programs for adults each month.

I have been a volunteer at Placerita for 30 years, and it gives me great pleasure to see the fantastic nature education that is not only provided, but is also improved each year. Our mission statement is not taken lightly, and the effort is shared by all the volunteers: “To inspire a passion, awareness and respect for the environment and to preserve and protect for future generations the history and ecosystem of Placerita Canyon.”

eve072016dHowever, there are more “behind the scenes” parts you might not be aware of, where the docents’ decisions can make a difference.

As you might know, we are responsible for the costs involved in taking care of the animals. We are indeed lucky to be able to do animal presentations every Saturday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and to show the animals to the visiting school groups. Those animals must be fed, have veterinary care when needed, and be housed in the best possible manner; and our operations must be inspected on a regular basis to make sure everything is happening in accordance with every regulation.

All of this care is expensive, and the volunteers are responsible for these expenses at all times. How do we manage to do that?

We do receive donations to help with this cost (some donations come through the Adopt-an-Animal program), and we are always very frugal with all of the donations.

eve072016fWe have saved for many years. One example that comes to mind is the museum. The museum exhibits were long obsolete when they had to be demolished during the general building renovation. (The concrete floor was being redone.) We knew we wanted to have a new museum, so we started to work hand-in-hand with the county to take the first steps to achieve this dream. The docents had many meetings to clarify a concept for all aspects of the future museum. Different agencies were consulted and asked to prepare an interpretive master plan, and all expenses were paid by PCNCA.

This plan was the basis for the new museum and the classroom exhibits. Each step was supervised by the county. When the final version was drawn up, the docents were planning that it would take a few years of intensive fundraising. But then Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich came to our rescue, and funds were drawn from the county budget to make the Interpretive Center a reality.

eve072016eWe did have some money available, so the docents paid for a security system for the Interpretive Center and also for a state-of-the-art audio-visual system that is now used for all educational programs.

In recognition of the fantastic programs we have created and the real educational value that has been attributed to PCNCA through the years, I am pleased to see that from time to time, we have received grants and generous donations that we are very careful in utilizing to make upgrades to Placerita.

I should point out that we have a beautiful and successful gift store that brings a steady flow of revenue to the volunteer organization. We have only one fundraiser each year, which is the Craft Fair during the first weekend of December.

All decisions about expenditures must be approved by the board (12 members have to be in agreement), and we are very thrifty. We are well aware this money has to be used in the most efficient way possible. The county has recognized our efforts and appreciates our support in some of its projects.

One that comes to mind and was recently discussed at a board meeting.

eve072016bLet me go back one year so you can better appreciate how these ideas take shape. Last fall, we had a successful presentation about wolves. A large crowd gathered, and there was not enough room to accommodate everybody. So the presentation was moved to the outdoor amphitheater. This amphitheater was built as an Eagle Scout project several years ago. It was used in the past to accommodate emergency situations dealing with large groups.

The amphitheater does not comply with current county building regulations. Sue Sutton, a PCNCA volunteer and board member, came to see the wolf presentation and was frustrated because she could not participate. Sue is in a wheelchair. A few docents tried to carry her wheelchair over the steep streambed going to the outdoor amphitheater, but in spite of all their efforts, they were not successful. Sue pointed out that if a public presentation is made at Placerita, everyone should be able to see it – and she was right about that.

eve072016cIn the fall, the county is going to start building a wonderful Braille trail going to the Oak of the Golden Dream to accommodate visitors who are blind, who have restricted vision or who have to use a wheelchair. The steep grade of the trail is going to be changed so it is gentler, and stations are going to be established along the trail with informational panels in Braille.

It sounds like a fantastic addition to the park, so the docents started thinking: How can we help? Maybe we could add an amphitheater that could have handicap access? Where should this amphitheater be located? How can we keep the cost down but still make this idea become a reality?

The docents will have to work closely with a county ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) expert, and the project will need to be done with county approval, of course. The docents can supply the ideas and part of the funds, but eventually all decisions regarding any construction and who gets a building contract is left to the county, which supervises the completion of the project.

This is only one of the projects that the docents will be involved with in the future, and I must say, it is a good feeling when a volunteer organization has a chance to participate in improving a place its members love so much.

eve072016aPCNCA is currently working to assist the county in providing upgrades and improvements to other park features. It is a two-way street: The county listens to our suggestions when it starts a project, and sometimes we can help a little bit to make the final project more to our liking. It is a wonderful partnership where we both try to improve Placerita. It does not always happen that way in other places, so the volunteers are very much aware they are held in high esteem by our county partners – the result of our many years of service to improve Placerita.

Hand in hand, may we march together into a great future.

I want you to remind that we do accept donations. We have a new PayPal account that makes the transaction even easier (check our website at Placerita.org).

This is a different kind of article than you usually see from me, but I thought it might be interesting to present a few “behind the scenes” stories that make the volunteer organization PCNCA so successful at Placerita.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center since 1986. She lives in Newhall.


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  1. Nikki Dail says:

    Create article Evelyne (as usual)!

  2. Linda P. says:

    Enjoyed this article. I had no idea of the responsibilities of the docents regarding expenses to keep things running. Thanks to the docents for their dedication to make Placerita what it is.

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