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Let's Go Outside | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
| Thursday, Dec 20, 2012

evelynevandersande_mugDocent? What’s a docent? That’s the first question most people ask. Although it’s a well-used term in museums, it’s not a common word outside of that world. A Google search says: “A person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.”

Why are we docents? Sometimes people ask me, “Why have you been a docent for the past 27 years? What do you do there? Don’t you resent giving all your free time away? What do you mean, you cannot go on this outing with me because you have a docent meeting? After all this time, you must be paid something!”

Worse, you might hear, “I went to this park and there was nothing happening there. Everything is dry and dead anyway.”

Those comments make me shudder – and I feel I should be signing up for another 25 years.

Docents are a vital part of a place like the Placerita Canyon Nature Center because they provide both the information and excitement that brings the area alive for our visitors.

Take a look at some of the things our wonderful Placerita docents get to see and do.

Take a look at some of the things our wonderful Placerita docents get to see and do. (Click images to enlarge.)

There is a strong need for that education to be renewed, continued and reinforced with each generation. In California, there is a general awareness of nature because it is all around us, available, and within easy reach every day of the year. Even in a large metropolis like Los Angeles, the ocean and the mountains are visible from the freeways. The weather rarely stands in the way of taking a hike, and the health culture is strong, so people spend lots of time in the outdoors.

It is quite different in other parts of the country. Having lived in New York City, I know why the New Yorkers end up in Central Park on a regular basis. However, understanding why rattle snakes are useful or why plants grow in the winter and go dormant in the summer requires a certain awareness that the general public does not always have. Why is one side of the mountain green and the other side yellow when both receive the same amount of rain? More education allows you to better enjoy and understand the world around you.

eve122012_ron-walkEducation about the environment is one of the goals of the Placerita’s docent organization. Our mission statement is: “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.”

Training of new docents starts Jan. 8. The volunteer-naturalists attend a nine-week training program. Topics include native plants, ecology, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals, geology, history and interpretative techniques. Instructors include noted professionals in the various fields. The cost of training is $45, which includes training materials. The classes are demanding but extremely rewarding. Classes meet at the Nature Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

eve122012_snakesIf you have a little extra time and some interest in Placerita, this training is a special opportunity to get a first-class education about a wide variety of topics that will give you a far better appreciation of your local environment.

If you enjoy working outside with children, please join us. Visit our website (placerita.org) for further information regarding the volunteer-naturalist program.

Being a volunteer is actually a selfish business: You give your time and attention, you learn new material, but you get so much more back. There is nothing better than a group of third graders hanging on your every word and discovering a woodpecker or praying mantis for the first time. Their wonder and interest are gifts that make you really happy and proud. Each walk with a school group is a different adventure, but always a good one.

eve122012_babyhawkOther volunteer opportunities are also available at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center that are less kid-intensive and require less training, such as office helper and trail maintenance team member. Bilingual (English/Spanish) volunteers are especially needed.

What keeps us going? Letters like this one from a school teacher after the children attended the program given by the docents. It brings us back to our roots and is one of the reasons we formed.

“I received so many great compliments yesterday about our Placerita Canyon Nature Center field trip. The moms loved the docents! The kids were still talking about the animals, plants, and yes, even rocks that they saw and touched. All of you do such a great job. Thanks again for a great day, and thanks to all the docents who make it such a fun experience!”

For further information call or visit the Placerita Canyon Nature Center at 19152 Placerita Canyon Road in Newhall, 661-259-7721 or by email: placeritatraining@earthlink.com.


Evelyne Vandersande has been a docent at Placerita Canyon Nature Center for 27 years. She lives in Newhall.


eve122012_audience eve122012_lineup eve122012_walk eve122012_talk eve122012_ron-walker eve122012_picnic eve122012_owl2 eve122012_oj

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  1. Ron Kraus says:

    Great article Evelyne!

  2. Vanessa says:

    Thank goodness for docents! Beautiful pictures too!

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