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.