I am Corina Yeh, a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador for the National Park Service at Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
Part of my job as a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador is to get the surrounding community involved in service in Saguaro National Park. As a park adjacent
to nearly 1 million people, that’s a lot of communities to reach out to, but I had to start somewhere! For the Tucson Mountain (West) District of our park, it started with a little litter – literally!
Picture Rocks is a more rural community on the outskirts of Tucson, bordering the west district of our park. If you are a long-time Tucsonan, you would know that people move out to the area to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. One day, Saguaro National Park received complaints of the trash piling up alongside Picture Rocks Road. This road is heavily used and runs straight through sections of the park.
We saw this as an opportunity to reach out to the community of Picture Rocks for volunteers. I attended a meeting at their community center in late August and proposed two service projects for Citizens of Picture Rocks to help the park with: the Desert Winds Trail Project and the Picture Rocks Road Litter Pick Up. At this meeting I had the chance to meet some of the prominent leaders in their community as well as get the feel for their sense of stewardship towards the park. I made flyers for the two events and passed out my card to many interested folks. The Desert Winds Trail would be a ~2 mile educational nature trail that started from the community center and neighboring school, passed a historic Civilian Conservation Corps site, and to another trail head in the park. Creating this trail would mitigate the social trails being created and any damage to the CCC site caused by them. The Picture Rocks Road Litter Pick Up would be the first litter pick up done on the park’s road segments in several years.
September came and went, and the 1st of October had arrived, but I still had not gotten anyone from Picture Rocks signing up to help. I was starting to get worried, wondering if no one would come. Finally, the week of the trail building project, I had volunteers! While working with them on the trail, I talked about the need to get the community involved and spreading the word about other things individuals could do in the park for service. As the last weeks in October crept up, once again, I had no sign ups for our litter pick up – the very issue that had started this community initiative to begin with! Then, 4 days out from the event, I got an in-pouring of groups, individuals, and families wanting to come out and pick up trash! Thank goodness that Rangers Brad and Ray and myself had planned for 2 or 20 people!
Everyone met up the morning of the pick up, and I was happy to see some return volunteers from the trail project, and also that some people knew each other from the community. As the litter pick up commenced, everyone could really see the impact we were having in our national park just by the amount of trash we were filling our bags with. The volunteers did so well that they finished the stretch of road before the time we predicted to be done at! All the volunteers showed such strong interest in returning to do another pick up, so we decided we would be hosting another pick up in a few months!
The point in my blog post today being: don’t give up, be persistent, and have faith! There will always be those few that are always wanting to give back and help out! All it took was a little litter to get the Picture Rocks community more involved right in their backyard, at Saguaro National Park.