For many Phoenicians, one of the pleasures of living here is the easy access to numerous mountain preserves. Maintaining these trails’ safety, functionality, and beauty is no easy task and wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated help of volunteers working in the Park Steward Program.
“Due to the shortage of rangers, the Park Steward Program was established back in 2008,” Park Ranger and Volunteer Coordinator Peter White said. “Trail working and building is a slow process that’s very time-consuming because it’s all done manually, so we have a great need for volunteers.”
With 41,000 acres of preserved land, over 200 miles of designated trails and 182 urban parks, that’s a lot of ground to cover!
“In 2017, Phoenix reinvigorated the Park Steward Program,” White said. “It began with 80 volunteers and no projects, and now we’re at around 620 volunteers and about 80 projects a month. Our Park Stewards service all the city mountain preserves, and now they’re starting to work in the urban parks.”
Annually, about 6.2 million people visit the preserves, and White reported that, during the pandemic, visitors and volunteers doubled.
Anyone 16 and older can sign up to be a Park Steward, and those younger than 16 must have a parent present with them. According to White, a few families with young children volunteer and come into work together.
Park Steward applications are available online, and after someone applies, White contacts them and sets up an hour-long virtual orientation. He details the basics of the Park Steward Program, including their role and responsibilities as a volunteer.
“Our Park Stewards do everything, like trail work, cleaning up, and pruning,” White said. “We also have a group called the Desert Defenders who work the preserves pulling invasive grasses and plants as well as planting native species to keep out the invaders.”
White said volunteers have been allowed to run their own projects, such as those conducting interpretive hikes. Volunteers are encouraged to positively promote the preserves and educate people on the animals and plant life that call the trails home.
“Within the Park Steward Program, we’ve also created a Mountain Bike and Hike Patrol Group to teach people about trail etiquette,” White said. “Our trails are available to hikers, horseback riders and bikers, so, for example, we don’t want bikers to zip by someone riding a horse.”
Volunteers are split equally across the preserves, and White said they average about 1,000 to 1,200 hours of volunteering, with 22 to 24 new volunteers signing on a month.
“I love the connection with our volunteers,” White said. “You see the same people over and over, and you create friendships.”