This blog posting and video are part of a series being produced by CSAC to highlight county best practices through our annual Challenge Awards. These awards recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The programs being highlighted are recipients of the 2012 awards. The Call for Entries for the 2013 CSAC Challenge Awards has been distributed; the entry deadline is June 28, 2013. 

To review a video about the San Diego County Parks and Recreation Department Volunteer Program, click here.


Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve is a gorgeous place. Contained within its 3,700 acres of open space, the county park offers more than 10 miles of trails for hikers and bicyclists throughout picturesque surroundings. The park also features a historic adobe ranch house that was built in 1823 by the recipients of the first Mexican land grant in San Diego County.  Combining a beautiful natural setting with local history is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Los Peñasquitos is just one of the gems in a San Diego County park system that encompasses approximately 100 parks on more than 45,000 acres of land. These gems are kept shining and open to the public through an extensive and successful County Parks and Recreation Department Volunteer Program.

Cheryl Wegner, the county’s volunteer coordinator, is proud of the program – and has good reason to be. In 2012, more than 3,000 volunteers provided nearly 100,000 hours of service, valued at over $2 million. The significance of this program was magnified during the economic downturn when the department was faced with staff reductions and budget cuts.

The volunteers handle a variety of positions: hosts who perform park maintenance and assist with programs; docents who conduct historical research and provide tours; and patrols who on horseback, bike or foot serve as extra eyes and ambassadors out on the trails. There are even group volunteer opportunities for community organizations or private companies.

“Without the volunteer program, our parks staff would be hard-pressed to provide the services and programs that they do,” explains Wegner, who started out as a volunteer. “Our volunteers provide a huge service to our citizens. They thoroughly enjoy what they are doing and it shows in the benefits that they give to us as well.”

Michelle Robertson-Clark and Martin Buncher are two of the volunteers who patrol the trails of Los Peñasquitos on horseback.  Like with most of the volunteers, this arrangement is a win-win situation.

“It’s a really great way to give back to the community,” Robertson-Clark says. “The rangers can’t be everywhere and it’s our job to help them and be their eyes and ears. Volunteers are a way to help them be more successful. It helps everyone; it helps the community.”

While riding his beloved horse Barney, volunteer Muncher has helped park goers in a variety of manners. “We’ve come across people with children who need water; we have come across snakes in the trail and gone back to warn hikers; we’ve helped with stream crossings – it’s basically keeping our eyes open for anything that would be surprising and not favorable to the people or wildlife that’s on the trail.”

By utilizing volunteers to supplement staff, San Diego County’s Parks and Recreation Department has been able to maintain the high level of service the public expects, while staying within fiscal constraints.

And because of the volunteer program, gems like Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve keep shining.