Volunteer Appreciation Week: Tree Stewards Leave a Legacy

Tree Stewards care for Balboa Park's urban forest

Balboa Park is home to over 440 species of trees and is a critical component of San Diego’s urban forest and canopy coverage. Tree Stewards monitor recently planted trees and report on their health, perform maintenance on trees by weeding and applying mulch, and share their knowledge with others by teaching groups how to plant trees and contribute to the urban forest.

Kate Sessions, widely regarded as the “Mother of Balboa Park,” planted hundreds of trees in the park around the turn of the 20th century, some of which still exist today. These trees stand as a testament to the nurturing and care given by the Tree Stewards’ predecessors. “I am grateful to the people who came before me many decades ago, who planted the trees that I enjoy now,” says Karen, who has volunteered for a year and plants trees, waters them, and performs routine maintenance on young trees. Acknowledging the legacy that trees hold, she says, “I want to make sure that there are trees for the coming generations, and so I get a lot of fulfillment and a lot of happiness from being around the trees in Balboa Park.”

Karen Davidson, Tree Steward, with a volunteer group at our 2024 Arbor Day Tree Planting

“I monitor a zone on the West Mesa and get to walk through the grove of trees and see how they progress year to year,” says Dave, who has volunteered for over four years as a Tree Steward, monitoring young trees and reporting on their growth. “I love it. It gets me outside and around the trees. I want to do anything I can to mitigate as much of my personal [carbon] footprint as I can, and volunteering gets me closer to that.”

Dave Marriott, Tree Steward

Bill Dodge, Tree Steward

Bill, who has volunteered for two years, serves as a Garden Steward and Tree Steward, and teaches individuals how to plant trees during the tree planting season. “Folks love to come to Balboa Park once they have planted a tree and see how it’s doing,” he says, reflecting on the sense of pride and community that people feel after planting trees. “After they plant a tree, they feel like they have invested in their city. It’s a really great experience.”

“Teaching people how to plant trees is a lot of fun, and it links you to the wider community, which I enjoy,” says Karen. “I often work with people who have never planted trees before, volunteers from schools or corporate groups or from the community—groups that I normally wouldn’t have a lot of contact with.” Dave also feels a sense of gratification and joy as he monitors trees. “This grove is my own little part of the park,” he says. “Anything I can do to make sure that these trees are healthy, I will. I love Balboa Park; it is a jewel in San Diego’s crown. It really is something that we should all be proud of.”

Tree Stewards find common ground in their love for nature, community, and learning. “You learn so much more about the park and all of its features while you are doing this work,” Bill remarks. “And you get to meet some really nice people, and you realize very quickly that a lot of them share the same values that you have.” Karen views volunteering as an ongoing educational opportunity, saying, “I learn something new each time I go out and volunteer, and as I work with different people, I am exposed to new perspectives.”

Tree Stewards have a passion for nature, community, and stewardship, and their work serves as a reminder of the long-lasting impact that planting and caring for trees has. “It’s very soothing to be outside, enjoying the trees,” Dave says. “Being an environmental steward these days just seems like the best thing to do for yourself and for others.”

In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 22nd to 27th), we will be highlighting our different volunteer groups. We rely on the support of generous donors to deploy 300+ volunteers to serve our visitors and improve the park’s gardens, trails, and trees. Give now to cultivate the important work our volunteers are doing.

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