volunteers at resevoirbyMikeWestphal.JPG

The National Park Service reached its 100th anniversary on Aug. 25, and Pinnacles National Park was part of the centennial celebration. The park was one of the original members of the park system in 1916, when it was called the Pinnacles National Monument. It was elevated to national park status in 2013. The weekends of Aug. 20 and Aug. 27 have included a variety of events at the Pinnacles.

Guests looking to visit the Pinnacles received free park entrance, which lasts through Aug. 28. The evening of Aug. 27 featured a night sky program on the park’s west side. The NPS’s campaign for the centennial event has been to get visitors to learn, discover, get inspired, and have fun. A call to action has drawn local support, with volunteers getting involved in the park services.

The east side of the park in San Benito County featured a day of service on Aug. 20, when guests learned about community services and the environment. They sampled dragonfly nymphs to learn about pollution and collected seeds for future wilderness restoration.

“We had 18 volunteers at the event and six staff members from the park and Pinnacles Partnership,” said centennial and Volunteer Coordinator Veronica Johnson. “Many of the volunteers were returning volunteers that have helped on other monthly service events. We had five new volunteers and we hope they come again.” She noted the weather was pleasant for late August, and made for an overall great event.

Volunteers who took part in the dragonfly nymph sampling went to the park reservoir to learn about the insects from NPS Park Wildlife Biologist Paul Johnson. The volunteers had hands-on experience as they used nets to scoop up aquatic life, which was one step in studying mercury in the local environment. Paul Johnson shared his years of experience at Pinnacles to inform the participants about the every one of the various creatures they encountered.

“A teenage volunteer, excited, approached me and told me he saw things that he never knew were in the reservoir,” said Veronica Johnson. “He said they saw a leech, a few snakes, and a carnivorous water insect.”

The group collected dragonfly specimens for study, and were successful in collecting their needed numbers, which were prepared for further study. More specimens will be collected from two additional sites later in the year. The sampling is part of a nationwide project between the NPS, United States Geological Survey, and the University of Maine, which includes citizen science work in more than 50 national parks. Johnson said dragonfly nymphs have been chosen for sampling because of their role as biosentinels, a type of indicator species, for mercury in aquatic food webs.

A volunteer buckwheat seed collection was led by Student Conservation Association Intern Emily McDermott along the park’s Bench Trail. McDermott was serving a one-year term of service at the Pinnacles, as one of about 100 interns in the NPS. Under her leadership, volunteers collected seeds to be used for future habitat restoration work. 

The seed collectors also collected trash along the trail. While a specific trash pick-up wasn’t part of the weekend events, Johnson said staff and volunteers do regular trash pick-ups. “We are interested in keeping the park free of litter on the trails for the visitors experience and habitat protection,” she said. “We want the public to know that even small bits of garbage in the environment are hazardous to wildlife, including the endangered California condor that calls Pinnacles its home. Ingestion of small fragments of litter is one of the known causes of death of condor chicks.”

The Pinnacles hosts groups for service days. Johnson said, “We have many volunteer programs that are recruiting local volunteers to commit to one year of service, one to two days a week.”
The Centennial Days of Service program will continue on Sept. 24 and Oct. 22. On those days, volunteers can visit the Pinnacles to help with future service projects, including litter abatement, invasive plant control, seed collection, and trail work. Participants are encouraged to wear sturdy shoes and long pants, and to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Those interested in the monthly drop-in service events or volunteering at the Pinnacles can visit:

Sean is a writer and photographer from California’s Central Coast. He began reporting for BenitoLink in 2015. Sean received his BA in communication from CSU Monterey Bay and he has covered news stories...