(Santa Barbara, CA) A lovely, lighthearted day on Lake Cachuma greeted NatureTrack (NT) founder Sue Eisaguirre as she treated nearly 50 docents to a two-hour cruise and a delicious lunch from El Rancho Market to show her appreciation. It was a picture-perfect day to enjoy the sights and sounds around the lake. Three pontoon boats were secured for the cheerful docents who were able to make the special celebration. “We’ve been tracking now for eleven years and we couldn’t have done it without all of you! This year alone, there have been more than 70 K through 12 Field Trips serving 3,500 students,” she added enthusiastically. Every Field trip uses one docent for every five students making the experience more memorable for the kids. She continued, “Our latest program for those who use wheelchairs has had nine field trips to beaches using Freedom Trax devices.” Sue talked about attending the Abilities Expo and the Santa Clarita Triumph Sports Festival where they got a great reception with the devices. All told nearly 100 wheelchair users of all ages – up to our 101 y.o. senior — have been beyond grateful to experience this new form of freedom – for free. Devices were purchased with grants from the State of California and the County of Santa Barbara to increase access to the beaches, along with some generous private donors. NT offers them to other non-profits at no charge.
Gratitude was in large supply. First up, Sue thanked El Rancho owners Alfred and Kathleen Holzheufor providing the delicious box lunches and for being on the NT Board. Christina Nelson of Pacific HR was applauded as was Tina Collins, Mike Patarak, and Dawna Davis. Dennis Nord was acknowledged as a Board member in addition to his docenting duties, nature journaling skills and for being on the scholarship committee. Additional thanks to Betsy Cramer, Jacqueline Hynes, Dennis Beebe and Elizabeth Quick who served with Nord to choose the recipient of the $5,000 NatureTrack Nancy Sterns Scholarship. In 2022, it went to Brynley Ellsworth from Pioneer Valley HS in Santa Maria. She’ll be attending BYU (Brigham Young U) in the Fall.
More tips of the hat went to Hynes for her ‘baking and bindery services’ as well as Steve Schultz and Beebe for being our “Freedom Trax” experts. Schultz, a master gardener and docent for NT uses a wheelchair and was the first to use the device and proved it would be a great addition to the program. Now, teachers and students who use wheelchairs can join the classes on the Field Trips to beaches and trails. Leading the pack of docents is NT’s newest staff member, Abby Pickens as Program Manager. Abby expressed how lucky she is to have such a great team of volunteers and how she loves working outdoors. She wrapped up her remarks by acknowledging Sue as “the most loving, caring leader I’ve ever worked with.” The response was unanimous.
Guitarist/singer Pam Fisher provided some rocking good tunes to sing along with on the ride – Neil Young’s “Southern Cross,” and Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” among them. When she introduced “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” Pam said, “This song is what NatureTrack is to me.” She explained afterwards, “I saw a sign at a local market in the valley for docents. I thought ‘I could do that.’ It was a really hard time for her, she’d lost her dad and her brother and many friends in a short period of time. Working as a ‘sweep’ docent – the one who’s at the back of the pack making sure everyone is accounted for – she had a revelation when a five-year-old girl reached up to hold her hand going back to the bus. “It was such a simple gesture, but it changed my life.”
Continuing the tributes Sue announced, “For the first time ever, the Dan Conaway Docent of the Yearaward has multiple awardees!” This year Steve Herbst, along with Margurite and Tom Tibbens will share the hand painted Gourd between them for 2022. Inside the gourd are messages of appreciation from former winners — messages only known to the recipients of this honor make it that much more special.
Families of all shapes and sizes who are docents were honored – Pam and Don Layton with their children Nikole and Ryan who have been with NT since day one. Rick, Toni Nichols and daughter Christy along with Dennis and Jess Beebe, Steve and Shannon Herbst, Margurite and Tom Tibbens, Carole and Dennis Nord, Pam Fisher and Rocky Miller, Debra and Gene Johnson, Sara Klasky and David Schmidt, Steve and Lisa Palmer, with Pam and Sparky Miller rounding out the relatives leading the way on the trails and beaches.
One dozen new docents joined in 2022 – the ‘Rookies’ were heartily welcomed and acknowledged: Melissa Beaugrand, Kiana Beckman, Diana Campbell, Drew Crittenden, Dawna Davis, Doug Gray, Steve Hayden, Catherine McDavid-Smith, Adelia McFall, Christy Nichols, and Jared Richards. A five-year pin was given to Barbara Young. Ten-year pins went to Jess Beebe, Margie Popper, Elizabeth Quick and Steve Schultz.
NatureTrack is always grateful to people who want to volunteer with children or adults. If you’re interested, please call Sue at 805 886 2047 or e-mail her: firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about NT here: https://NatureTrack.org.
NatureTrack is a 501(c)3 non-profit which provides outdoor docent-led field trips during the usual school day for Santa Barbara County children at no cost to the schools or students, utilizing local trails and beaches throughout north and south county. NatureTrack’s mission is two-fold: to encourage students to embrace our natural world with respect and wonder, inspiring them to be stewards of our natural resources, and prepare school-aged students with the attitudes, leadership skills, and habits for lifelong learning. Founded in 2011, more than 31,000 students have had a chance to experience a NatureTrack docent-led outdoor field trip. Recently NatureTrack expanded its’ mission of fostering a lifelong fascination with nature through outdoor field trips is now connecting people who use wheelchairs of all ages to access nature close-up using Freedom Trax. https://naturetrack.org. NatureTrack is expanding its’ reach up to San Luis Obispo and down to Ventura County with the Trax program. Thanks to private donors, UCSB’s Coastal Fund, California State Coastal Conservancy, Parks California ‘Route to Parks’ grant and the Coastal Resource Enhancement Fund for the grants which made this possible.