Volunteers Fill the Breach at Doheny, Other State Parks

Times Staff Writer

If it hadn’t been for an unsung band of volunteers, the whole affair might have turned into a “little war” between state Parks and Recreation Department officials and a group of beach-lovers who call themselves the Hole-in-the-Fence Beach Club.

The club members, without consulting park authorities, several weeks ago started plantingsmall palm trees to beautify a spot they frequent at Doheny State Beach.

“I told them they couldn’t plant trees there like that,” said Al Oliver, superintendent of the Pendleton Coast District of the state park system, which includes San Onofre, San Clemente and Doheny beaches. Oliver said state regulations prohibit private improvements on a publicly owned beach.

But as a result of the mediation of the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Assn., a nonprofit group of private volunteers dedicated to helping improve state park lands, the war was averted and the club has joined in an effort to plant more than 50 palms on half a mile of otherwise barren beach for the benefit of all beach visitors.

The confrontation is turning into what one park official described as a “splendid example” of cooperation for the betterment of the state beach, and it is calling attention to the little-known collections of unpaid volunteers throughout California without whose efforts the entire park system would be lacking in many of its amenities, officials said.


“In essence, the volunteers are indispensable,” according to Denzil Verado, manager of visitor services for the parks department’s Central Coast Region. “The park system couldn’t afford to operate without them.”

At the state level, thousands of largely unheralded volunteers are grouped under what is called the League of California State Park Nonprofit Organizations.

Under this umbrella, 80 of the state’s 280 parks and beaches have their own local associations of unpaid workers whose aim is to enhance the educational and interpretive programs of their individual parks. Perhaps more important, like the group at Doheny, they all are incorporated as nonprofit organizations and can accept tax-deductible donations from the public to provide physical improvements which the park system’s budget would not be able to finance.

10,000 Volunteers

Barbara Rathbun, the assistant deputy director for external affairs for the Parks and Recreation Department in Sacramento, said there are 10,000 such volunteers in California.

“They put in 300,000 hours of unpaid service every year, and they raise an average of $2 million a year for projects the park system couldn’t afford.

“They sell little booklets and pamphlets and trail maps and T-shirts, and they act as guides and docents to help visitors enjoy the particular beauties of each park. I think the time they give is more important than the money they raise.”

Jennie Verado of Monterey, wife of Denzil Verado, is executive secretary of the league of nonprofit organizations.

“The volunteer groups started in 1973, inspired by a federal program at Yosemite National Park,” Jennie Verado said. “We could do it on a state level, because our lawmakers about that time passed legislation allowing such (volunteer, tax-deductible) support for the park system.”

Spectacular Accomplishments

Basic activities at the beginning included publication and sale of maps and pamphlets, which the state couldn’t afford, she said, and that still is one of the most important functions.

But there have been more spectacular doings. At Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County, the volunteers raised money to build a museum and visitor center, Verado said. At Calaveras Big Trees east of Stockton, they remodeled an old mansion to serve as a center.

Ano Nuevo State Reserve above Monterey had been closed to the public to protect the elephant seal population there after it was determined the park system didn’t have enough money to provide guides to assure the safety of the animals.

“Volunteer docents were trained and took over as guides, so the reserve is once again open for visitors,” she said.

State Budget Cuts

Dom Gotelli of San Diego, manager of the system’s Southern California Region, which spreads from Oxnard to the Mexican border, said there are 27 volunteer associations attached to parks and beaches in that territory.

“Both (Gov. Edmund G.) Brown (Jr.) and (Gov. George) Deukmejian made some cuts in state park budgets,” he said, “and as the years go on and more cuts are anticipated, the volunteer groups become more important.”

One of the most active associations among the 27 is that at Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, headed by park Ranger Jill Dampier.

Although its membership is relatively small--Dampier said there are about 10 members now, with more needed--it was instrumental in the creation and operation of a unique visitor center that features an indoor reproduction of a tide pool, complete with living creatures from nearby ocean waters and equipped with pumps that allow water in the tank to rise and fall just as ocean tides do.

Association Raised $5,000

Total cost of the project was $35,000. The bulk of the money came from a fund set up by the Legislature to encourage improvements at state parks, but the association raised $5,000 of the total, Dampier said.

The tank was vandalized this summer by someone who dumped bleach into the water, killing 10 species of fish, numbers of abalone, sea anemones, starfish and other specimens. The volunteers and rangers are working to restore the display.

“We haven’t caught the culprits,” Dampier said. “We’d sure like to.”

And now, the Doheny volunteers are involved in the Hole-in-the-Fence tree-planting project.

The club members wanted to beautify a particular spot they reached by going through one of several holes in the fence that separates the sands from nearby Pacific Coast Highway below the bluffs of Capistrano Beach. Normal access to that and other portions of Doheny State Beach is by way of a gate and ticket office near the entrance to Dana Point Harbor.

Ticklish Situation

“This was a situation that could have turned pretty sour,” Jerry Spansail, supervising ranger at the park, said. “The Hole-in-the-Fence club could have been unhappy if we made them take up the trees they had already planted. The park system could have been made to look like villains.

“But cool heads talked things out, and one of the big things was that the volunteer association got into it. They helped get approval for the project from the parks department, and, of course, they can accept and coordinate any donations of trees or money that come in.”

Bill Calvert, spokesman for the beach club, said that in addition to the one- or two-foot Mexican fan palms that the club members planted, citizens have offered dozens more from their yards, including one 50-footer with three trunks, several 35-footers and a number of smaller ones.

Public interest was stirred Sept. 15 when the beach club staged a rather small rock concert on the sands and sold T-shirts, raising about $500, which went into the hands of the volunteer association for proper disbursement.

Equipment Needed

“What we really need now,” Calvert said, “is someone to volunteer his expertise and his equipment to bring in those big trees that have been donated. Our landscaping plan has been approved. We just need the work done.”

Dampier said any tax-deductible offers of funds or assistance may be sent to the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Assn., 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, Dana Point, CA., 92629, in care of her.

“That also goes for the $10,000 we’re trying to raise to expand the tide pool exhibit,” she added.

Al Oliver, superintendent of the Pendleton Coast District, said the tree-planting program “is one-of-a-kind in the whole park system” since it involves mainly private citizens and the volunteer association, and he said the projects of the associations in his other two parks, San Onofre and San Clemente, are a little tame by comparison.

“Volunteers there are selling firewood to campers to raise some money for self-guiding trail maps of the parks,” he said.

Designs on Graffiti

In the park system’s Orange Coast Area, which includes Huntington, Bolsa Chica and Crystal Cove beaches, and the Pio Pico Historical Park in Whittier, Manager Tom Miller said all but Bolsa Chica have small volunteer cooperative associations.

But Bolsa Chica has something the others don’t have.

“There’s a concrete seawall at the beach there that was covered with graffiti, most of it very offensive. Four-letter words and such,” Miller said. “Then, a while back, somebody started repainting it, altering the four-letter words, making them into designs.

“Some even do their work in secret, but lately most of it is not only acceptable but quite attractive, and we encourage them, because they’ve turned junk into some really nice artwork. We call it creative graffiti.”

One of the painters is Mike Brindley, 23, a surfer and student at Golden West College.

“I’m spending time and money on something that could get vandalized, but I’m into it,” he said. “I get out in the sun, by the ocean, and at the same time I feel like a participating member of society.”