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It was still overcast when 10-year-old Ginger Ortlinghaus and her family arrived at Colgan Creek Park early on a Saturday morning, but they weren’t there to enjoy the playground or set up for a picnic. They arrived at the neighborhood park in Santa Rosa ready to work.

The family was among 25 volunteers pitching in to help beautify the park as participants in the Park-A-Month Program sponsored by the City of Santa Rosa Recreation and Parks Department.

The family-friendly program invites volunteers to city parks, recreation centers and historic properties to help spruce up the sites. Tasks range from weeding and mulching to painting and picking up trash.

“We’re augmenting staff services, not replacing staff services at all,” said Elaine Gutsch, the city recreation coordinator who oversees volunteer programs and park permits. “What volunteers provide we call the icing on the cake.”

For Ginger, a fifth-grader at Schaefer Charter School in Santa Rosa, the Park-A-Month Program is an opportunity to make a difference in her community.

She uses local parks, she said, so figures she should help maintain them. She has helped several times with a group of SOMA Church Community members.

Ginger encourages other park visitors to lend a hand, too. “They use the parks, so they should learn to take care of things more often.” Plus, she noted, “It’s a fun thing.”

She was using a long-handled litter picker to grab crabgrass her mother had loosened with a shovel, working with their church group and other volunteers to beautify the 2.6-acre park near Kawana Springs Road and Petaluma Hill Road.

“If we’re not taking care of it, then who is?” asked Ginger’s mother, Kristen Ortlinghaus, 46, an engineer. “It’s important to take care of where you live. It’s our bigger home.”

City groundskeeper Roy Ely was helping at the recent workday, answering questions, directing volunteers and providing loppers, spades, shovels, rakes, trash bags and the litter pickers Ginger found fun to use.

“It makes a real big difference when patrons come to enhance the park,” he said. “A big thing is the aesthetics.”

This year city parks — like private yards around the county — are bursting with weeds after a generous rainy season. Keeping up with pesky weeds has been a challenge just about everywhere.

“Weeding, that’s a big thing with our parks this season,” Ely said.

Volunteers like Florence Murray don’t mind the chore. Murray, 72, has been a faithful volunteer with the Park-A-Month Program since moving to Santa Rosa from Scotland a year ago.

The program has provided her with a way to explore city parks and facilities while meeting people and making a difference. She’s discovered a community with friendly residents, numerous creeks and expanses of greenery.

“What a good way to know Santa Rosa, doing Park-A-Month,” she said. “It’s a beautiful city.”

Murray encourages others to get outdoors and stake a claim in their neighborhood facilities. Santa Rosa has upwards of 70 neighborhood and community parks, plus three community centers, two pools and a golf course.

Murray, a retired high school history teacher, either walks to the featured parks or takes public transportation.

“Anybody can come out,” she said.

Rachel Jeffries, a volunteer specialist with the city, was coordinating efforts at Colgan Creek Park. She was impressed by the contributions of all the volunteers, kids included.

“They get invested and continue to come out,” she said. “Sometimes it’s really labor-intensive, with lots of muscle, but volunteers come out regardless and really give their all and work up a sweat.”

Jeffries said many people are surprised to discover Santa Rosa has such a diversity of parks and recreational centers.

“We have a very capable (grounds-keeping and maintenance) team but it’s still so much to cover and maintain,” she said.

The Park-A-Month Program was limited to spring and fall seasons when it was introduced in 2010, but has grown to a year-round effort.

Parks staff develop a calendar of projects to tackle, careful to include locales across the community. Winter months typically are dedicated to indoor work at facilities like the city’s senior centers, the Church of One Tree or the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens, a city site operated by a nonprofit board.

Outdoor work in inclement weather isn’t much of a deterrent to volunteers, though.

“Rain or shine, you’d be so surprised how many people come out, even when it’s raining,” Gutsch said.

The workdays typically draw about 25 volunteers, from neighboring residents to business and church groups to students, some of them fulfilling community service hours. Last year some 300 volunteers participated in the program.

Recent projects included planting butterfly-attracting native plants at Bellevue Ranch Park and painting the interior of the Doyle Clubhouse at Doyle Park. An Arbor Day tree planting celebration is held every March that brings together numerous volunteers. This year, volunteers planted more than 20 trees in Juilliard Park and the surrounding neighborhood, a tribute complete with cupcakes commemorating the March 7, 1849 birthday of famed local horticulturist Luther Burbank.

The city recruits volunteers through social media, an e-newsletter and word of mouth, with volunteers often inviting friends to join them each month. Reservations are suggested but drop-in help is welcome, too.

Hand tools and gloves are provided, and every effort is appreciated.

“The community parks are so well-loved and can always use extra TLC,” Gutsch said.

Volunteers end their workdays with a sense of accomplishment and an even greater investment in their local parks.

“I’ve never seen anyone end Park-A-Month grumpy,” Gutsch said.

Park-A-Month workdays are held from 9 a.m. to noon the second Saturday of each month, rain or shine. The next event is Sept. 9 at Rae Park, 715 Rae St., Santa Rosa. Children are welcome but must have adult supervision.

For more information, call 707-543-3279 or visit srcity.org/parksvolunteer.

Contact Towns Correspondent Dianne Reber Hart at sonomatowns@gmail.com.

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