Over 70 volunteers, their friends, state park rangers, and board members of the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association gathered at the Scotia Inn on Saturday, Nov. 10, to honor retiring HRIA executive director Dave Stockton, welcome newly hired executive director David Pritchard, and show appreciation for their fellow volunteers.
In a year marked by budget shortfalls, park closures, and a shake-up at the highest level of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Humboldt Redwoods State Park experienced one of the busiest summer seasons in its history.
Between the beginning of May 2012 and the end of September, HRSP saw 123,680 day-visitors, over 16,000 individual and family campers, more than 7,000 campers in group camps, and nearly 1,000 hike-and-bike campers.
More than 75,000 of those visitors stopped in at the Visitor Center located on the Avenue of the Giants between Myers Flat and Weott, where they were greeted and assisted by volunteers.
Some of the volunteers are Southern Humboldt residents and many come from outside the area, usually retired couples who set up their RVs and spend a month or two - or more - helping out as campground hosts and in the Visitor Center, or working on special projects.
The Mounted Assistance Unit, made up of local riders, assists visitors at the Cuneo Creek Horse Camp and patrols the equestrian trails in the more remote areas of the park. The MAU, under the leadership of ranger Emily Peterson and the sponsorship of HRIA, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year.
HRIA, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing interpretive services to park visitors, owns and manages the Visitor Center and works hand-in-hand with HRSP rangers and staff to help visitors have a good experience at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Tributes to Stockton, who became HRIA’s executive director in 1997 after many years of volunteer service and a stint on the association board, came from a wide range of friends and co-workers.
Visitor Center manager Sandy Bartlett, who organized and emceed the event, said that when she applied for her job in 2008 and asked people who knew Stockton what he would be like as a boss, they told her he was a "saint."
Her own experience confirmed that, Bartlett said. "I never met anyone so dedicated and willing to extend himself... He always led by good example. I never felt I was being ‘trained’; it was more like I just followed him."
HRIA president Susan O’Hara, who has served on the board for 25 years, praised Stockton as well. She and Stockton recently co-wrote a book about Humboldt Redwoods State Park for Arcadia Publishing Company’s Images of America series, selecting historical pictures of the park and the local area from thousands of photos Stockton collected.
What’s more, Stockton had at least one story about every picture in the collection. "That made it hard to write the book because we were limited to 70 words per picture," O’Hara said.
HRSP supervising ranger John O’Rourke, who himself is retiring this month, talked about working with Stockton through the difficult process of expanding and renovating the Visitor Center in 1999-2000, struggling with a number of bureaucratic stumbling blocks. "We schemed and connived" to get the job done as they envisioned it, O’Rourke said.
Many of the volunteers, included several summer volunteers who traveled many hours to attend the Nov. 10 event, also spoke in appreciation of Stockton.
David Pritchard, HRIA’s new executive director was born in San Francisco but has strong roots in Humboldt County. His uncle, Harry Pritchard, was the 2nd district supervisor for Humboldt County in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Pritchard moved back to Humboldt with his parents when he was nine years old. He graduated from Eureka High School and went on to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, where he majored in agricultural business.
Like Stockton, Pritchard worked summers on the maintenance crew at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and in fact, he met Stockton there.
After graduation he moved all the way to the southernmost part of California - "From God’s country to God’s armpit," Pritchard described it in an interview with the Redwood Times - to teach at El Centro High School in the Imperial Valley.
"They warned me not to stay more than three years or I’d end up staying forever," Pritchard joked. He stayed for 33 years.
In 2010 he returned to Humboldt once again, and did some substitute teaching. Susan O’Hara, his cousin, suggested he apply for the job as executive director. "And I applied and was interviewed, and I got the job, and here I am."
Currently Pritchard is living at Giant Redwoods RV park in Myers Flat, where is also caretaking while the RV park is closed for the winter.
"I love being back in the redwoods," said Pritchard. He particularly enjoys taking visitors on nature hikes. "It’s so nice to have a group of people who listened and asked questions," he said, recalling his first group, "and weren’t texting or doodling like teenagers."
Since his arrival Pritchard has been working with park staff on the new "Eon Log," the section of downed old growth redwood that correlates dates in history with the tree’s rings.
By this spring the previous Eon Log, which was placed near the entrance to the Visitor Center, was so badly rotted that it was removed and the still-solid portion made into a bench.
The new log shows dates in world history on one end and, when the work is completed, will show significant events in the tree’s life on the other.
The Visitor Center is open all year round, seven days a week, closing only on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. Winter hours currently in effect are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Programs and special events are open to everyone, whether local or visitor.
For more information or if you are interested in volunteering, call 946-2263 during open hours, or just drop by.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
1. Dave Stockton (center), retiring executive director of the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, enthralls his audience with stories about Humboldt Redwoods State Park at a luncheon held to celebrate his retirement and honor volunteers on Saturday, Nov. 10. Visitor Center manager Sandy Bartlett (left) and HRIA board president Susan O’Hara look on.
2. David Pritchard, who recently came on board as the new executive director of the Humboldt Redwoods Interpretive Association, gets ready to greet visitors at Humboldt Redwoods State Park. He is joined by Visitor Center manager Sandy Bartlett and June Patton (center), who was recently recognized for 14,000 hours of volunteer service at HRSP, the most hours of any state park volunteer in California.