Volunteer Spotlight: Park Stewards

The Park Stewards program was created in 2016 because of a number of particularly enthusiastic volunteers who had the time and desire to volunteer more frequently. Caring for our natural resources is a high priority for Ottawa County Parks, but one that could use an infinite amount of staff and financial resources. Tasking dedicated volunteers with some of these projects seemed like a perfect fit. Spring through fall, we offer a project once during the work week and once on a weekend. Park Stewards aren’t required to attend every workday, but many of them do!

Featured photo: Park Stewards working at Connor Bayou to re-home native plants following Idema Explorers Trail work

The Park Stewards program isn’t connected to a specific property or project, so it balances the consistency of other programs, where groups return to one park many times per year. Park Stewards projects have included tree planting, bank stabilization, surveying for and pulling invasive plants, planting monarch waystations, and constructing blue bird boxes. In the last year, they have worked in various parks and open spaces all over the county.

Park Stewards agree that variety is a draw. Estelle Charroud, who often volunteers with her children, said, “We love the diversity of projects that are offered. Every year we get to explore new parks and help with new projects. It has been a delight bonding and learning with my family. My son likes to say that he goes on many adventures with his family.”

Tena Hop waist-deep foliage, pulling garlic mustard

We hope to soon offer web-based training to Park Stewards. Investing in additional training will build the capacity of the program by allowing these amazing volunteers to take on leadership roles for future workdays.

By creating more natural resources experts, the Park Stewards program contributes to the bettering of our community. Tena Hop, a volunteer who also maintains a portion of the North Country Trail with her husband, said, “Seeing how well the parks are taking care of invasives has had an impact on me. I see these pests all through the woods, and a couple of weeks ago I pulled six bags of garlic mustard off our section of trail. It spurs me to be more vigilant.”

Charroud agreed, “My children have gained a wealth of knowledge about nature, wildlife, and conserving the environment. They have learned what it is to work and try and make a difference. We also have been so fortunate to have met friends who we now consider part of our family.”

Park stewards after the Marne Bog excursion

“The bog search was my favorite adventure to date. It provided me with a wealth of information and it was a joy to be able to venture out on such a challenging trek. Although I appreciate the plantings and managing invasive plants, adventures like the search for Marne Bog renew my desire to help our environment. Thank you for giving us volunteers such interesting tasks. I continue to be amazed at the number of parks and land available for the public to explore. I’m so privileged to be a part of this group.”
— Mark Schroder, Holland (Park Steward)

The Park Steward program was featured in the Holland Sentinel in 2018. 

Park stewards constructing Eastern blue bird boxes at Grand River Park

About the Author

Jessica VanGinhoven

Jessica is the media contact for the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Department: jvanginhoven@miottawa.org, (616) 994-4716