A year to remember: Beauty and purpose in San Mateo national parks


San Mateo Park Stewardship intern Samuel Peña.

By Samuel Peña
San Mateo Park Stewardship Intern

Hello San Mateo Park Stewardship volunteers,

It is with conflicting emotions that I write this article, the last one of my internship. The past few months of this internship have been full of fun, adventure, hard work, and so much learning. I’m going to miss this job and being part of this team terribly. I also am leaving this internship with so much pride, being part of an incredible legacy of Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy staff, interns and volunteers who have spent countless hours of time over the past few decades stewarding the land to be as healthy as it can be. 

I’ve made countless memories over this internship, but there are definitely some moments that stick out in my mind a little more than others. This past planting season was full of so much rain, wind and hail, but that never stopped us from trying to get all the plants in the ground. I remember suiting up in my rain gear and driving out to our park sites, hoping to not be too cold that day, but also happy that it was raining so the ground would be soft and it would be easier to dig. I’ll never forget all the time-consuming steps it took to get the materials prepared in order to plant the lupines, the host plant for the endangered Mission blue butterfly, as well as the several steps it took to plant the lupines to ensure their survival. This came full circle when I was able participate in a Mission blue translocation day, where we went to San Bruno Mountain to collect Mission blue butterflies, and translocate them to Milagra Ridge for release. I will forever be grateful for the chance to participate so directly in helping ensure the survival and hopefully population increase of an endangered species. What an incredible experience!

I definitely have to mention how fortunate I have been to spend the majority of my time outdoors in such beautiful spaces. I will never forget being surrounded by the massive amounts of tidy tips and goldfields at Mori Point. I will never forget feeling that invigorating wind and enjoying the expansive views from the hilltops of Milagra Ridge (when it’s not completely enshrouded in the fog). I will never forget the calm, peaceful, terrain of Rancho Corral De Tierra, and knowing that I was there at some of the initial stages of restoration on that site and to keep going back there and seeing the progress of the newest addition to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

After this internship wraps up, I will be returning to the education field, where I will be working at a social-justice inspired afterschool arts program located in the Twin Peaks area of San Francisco. I definitely will be telling my students about the rewarding time I spent working in habitat restoration for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, as well as letting them know about some of the volunteer opportunities for them and their families that are available in our parks. Perhaps we’ll take a hike up to the top of Twin Peaks just above our school campus, which also happens to be one of the limited habitats of the Mission blue butterfly, and I can let my students know about some of the efforts currently happening to save this adorable and vulnerable butterfly. Habitat restoration and the skills I learned working with the park stewardship program are definitely transferable to the education field and my time with park stewardship has no doubt made me a better educator than before.

As I continue thinking about where my future career path is headed, I definitely want stewardship, my love of the environment, and my commitment to social justice and equity in education to somehow be linked together. This experience as an intern with Park Stewardship will always be a part of that.     

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