Posted on April 14, 2014

Month of Service: PG&E Volunteers Have Had Lasting Impact on Montaña de Oro State Park

By Matt Nauman

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY – Everywhere she looks at  Montaña de Oro State Park, Jodi Isaacs sees the value of PG&E volunteers.

PG&E employees brought their families to the volunteer event at Montana de Oro State Park. Here, Omega Zaitz and his son Oliver plant a native species. Zaitz' wife Kristin is a PG&E employee. (Photos by Matt Nauman.)

In her light green uniform, Isaacs often is called a park ranger, but she’s actually an environmental scientist for the California State Parks. On Saturday (April 12), she supervised about three dozen PG&E employees, and their friends and families, as they dug holes, trucked wheelbarrows full of wood chips and did other tasks to spruce up the park.

“The beauty of the PG&E relationship is that I come to rely on it,” she said. “We started growing these plants a year ago with the expectation that we were going to have PG&E out here to plant them.”

The event at Montaña de Oro was one of several taking place throughout PG&E’s service area over the weekend and one of more than 100 such volunteer projects during the company’s second annual Month of Service. Many events are in support of the California State Parks Foundation.

The Spooner Ranch House is now a museum at the park. It's where volunteers gathered on Saturday morning.

“When you have a park like this and you have local volunteers come out, it builds an amazing sense of community,” said Cheryl Brier of the Parks Foundation. “We’re very grateful to PG&E.”

PG&E volunteers, most who work at the nearby Diablo Canyon Power Plant, have been helping improve Montaña de Oro for nearly 15 years.

“Montaña de Oro is our next-door neighbor,” said Tom Esser, an environmental coordinator at Diablo Canyon. The park and the nuclear power plant property share a border.

Montaña de Oro State Park includes more than 8,000 acres with seven miles of shoreline. It is one of the largest parks in the system. Once a farm and dairy ranch, it was purchased by the state of California in 1965.

Barry Allen, the site vice president at Diablo Canyon, was among the employee volunteers.

Esser, who lives in nearby Los Osos, sees the results of the work by PG&E employees when he hikes in the park. Native plants and oak trees put in the ground a year ago have grown substantially. Handicap ramps to the bathrooms and water stations in the campground were installed by employees a few years ago.

“The rangers out here need the help,” he said. “They appreciate the work that we do. A lot of our employees and friends and neighbors here visit the park and they have an opportunity to enjoy the work we do here.”

Joining Esser on Saturday were employees with a wide variety of jobs at the plant, from control-room operators to IT specialists to budget planners to senior engineers. Barry Allen, PG&E’s site vice president at Diablo Canyon, was there, too.

Volunteers big and small helped at the event. (Photo by John Lindsey.)

“It’s great to see PG&E employees giving back to our communities,” Allen said. “We support them. They support us.”

At the event, volunteers dug holes on a hillside in the park’s campground area. The volunteers dropped in metal shields to keep gophers away and then planted a variety of native species – monkey flower, coffee berry, California sage and California poppy. Then, huge piles of wood chips were pitch-forked into wheelbarrows and distributed around the plants to keep them protected and to better retain moisture.

Isaacs collects the seeds at the park and then grows them in the park’s greenhouse. She grows oak trees from acorns.

“Without volunteers we couldn’t do this essential work and extra projects,” Isaacs said. “It just wouldn’t get done otherwise, so it’s a service not only to our parks but to our visitors.”

By the end of the event, an entire hillside was planted with native plants.

Thanks to Month of Service events, PG&E employees have now donated more than 11,000 volunteer hours so far this year on their way to a goal of 50,000 hours for 2014.

(Click hear to read other stories and to see videos about 2014 Month of Service events in local communities across Northern and Central California where PG&E employees live and work.)

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