John Fox, Docent – Año Nuevo State Park

John Fox says that people become docents for many reasons. Each docent shares their enthusiasm and understanding of Año Nuevo from a different viewpoint. That way, each time you visit, you will have a new experience. Perhaps you will hear an emphasis on the beauty of nature, a historical background, an environmental viewpoint, or a few words about the geology of this place. John says you will gain something new from each visit, as he does, even after 26 years!

When John used to visit in the 1990’s, he had no experience and there was not the mentoring program as there is today, but he signed up for the Año Nuevo training and fledged in 1995. He felt that he could offer his own science-oriented way of introducing the Año Nuevo experience. He says, “I like to create interest within people.” His primary technique is to present “puzzles” that visitors solve and take the knowledge home. For example, John might explain that elephant seals have turbinate cavities in their skulls. He’ll ask, “Why do elephant seals have turbinate cavities? Why do grizzly bears have them?” The cavities capture and recycle fresh water. (Elephant seals do not drink fresh water and they cannot desalinate ocean water; bears get needed moisture while hibernating.) “Getting them to think, that's what I love doing!” 

At Año, docents can lead walks, run the store, or inform and direct people from the staging area, or act as interpreter in the Cove Beach area. In a non-COVID year, a docent could lead 2 to 3 walks, twice or thrice a month. A typical training experience consists of lectures, field trips, mentor sessions, and practices in the dunes from mid-September to mid-December. “Fledge day” is between Christmas and New Year’s, just in time for the January through March breeding season. Docents gravitate toward their preferred roles. As John became more experienced, he felt the need for a docent mentorship program and, with other docents, developed the one used today.

John’s favorite moments are from his interactions with people. A boy named Grohan who shared a joke with the group; a midwife visitor who pointed out that while a 75-pound newborn elephant seal seems giant, it is the same five percent of the mother’s body as a human child. His advice to an aspiring new docent: “Don’t worry about the first walk or two. Any fears will go away and you will begin to learn from and be entertained by the visitors.”

Dan Clearwater, Docent – Pigeon Point Lighthouse State Historical Park

Dan Clearwater volunteered monthly while working at a “big four” accounting firm and weekly upon retirement. His connection with Pigeon Point is two-fold. Photography is a hobby, and lighthouses are a special interest. He is a member of the US Lighthouse Society and has photographed lighthouses in at least ten states, Canada and Mexico. (Did you know that Michigan, on the Great Lakes, has the most lighthouses?) It may be no surprise then that he readily signed up.

Dan says that typically, docent training is scheduled for the last two Saturdays of September and the first Saturday of October for groups of about ten. However, other training can be done through binders, Zooms, and mentors. While the most docents come from Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, he commutes from San Francisco.

At the Light Station, three docents are needed. One operates the store which is managed by Coastside State Parks Association to benefit Light Station operations and programs, including the educational and interpretive volunteer programs. Another is an interpreter at the Fog Signal Building (which houses the great Fresnel lens and memorabilia), and a third does the walking tour. Dan says, “without docents, the park would not be open.” They are encouraged to work one day a month, although Dan works each week. Tours last 45 minutes, and, as at Año Nuevo,  each one is different.

Dan likes to begin his tours at the flagpole, giving an historical background that begins in 1871 and notes the original lighthouse keeper stayed in the first hostel building. At the little bridge he may point out where there was a narrow port with a pier until the 1930s. He may go on to cover the carpenter shop, plants and wildlife, the huge Fresnel lens that guided ships, or the fog horns.

A key benefit to docents is the appreciation of visitors. He recalls a Girl Scout troop that used their cookie earnings to stay at the adjacent Pigeon Point hostel. They gave him boxes of cookies as a gift and later wrote a letter of thanks that was signed by each scout.

Visitors are all ages and come from all over the world. Dan says that a surprising number of visitors come from China apparently because the lighthouse is in a school curriculum.  The most common questions are about when whales are in season (any time of year) and what is the lighthouse for (as a navigation guide more than a shipwreck savior). A memorable one was “how much does the lighthouse weigh?” Never one to avoid a difficult question, Dan pointed out that there are 500,000  bricks, each weighing about 1.5 pounds, plus mortar. Dan summarizes, “the job is thoroughly enjoyable and you get to meet interesting people.”

If you want to learn more about becoming a docent, ask any docent on your next visit, or check below:

Año Nuevo State Park

Needs:    Docents for Guided Tours and Park Store, Rover, Construction Volunteer Crew


Apply/Ask:    Susan Blake, Docent Recruitment Coordinator, 650-879-2032 or


Pigeon Point Light Station State Historical Park

Needs:    Docents at Fog Signal Building (FSB) and on FSB deck (e.g. marine mammals), Rover, Gardening and Habitat Restoration, Docent in Shop


Apply/Ask:    Joe Rogers, Volunteer Coordinator, 650-879-2120 or


Half Moon Bay State Beach, Pescadero Marsh Natural Preserve,
McNee Ranch in Montara Beach State Park, and Burleigh H Murray Park Property

Needs:    Group Docent, Snow Plover Docent, Camp Hosts, Nursery and Habitat Restoration Crew, Visitor Center and Retail Volunteer


Apply/Ask:    Volunteer Coordinator, 650-726-8814,
    Habitat restoration (including group projects), 650-726-8801,       

Butano State Park

Needs:    Trail Crew


Apply/Ask:    650-879-2040