By Elizabeth McGuire
Jennifer Ramos got hooked on hiking when she realized that it nudged her out of her comfort zone and into places she might not otherwise experience.
This growing passion led to trail clean-ups, park projects, and eventually a role as an APF Ambassador. To her surprise she found that volunteering mirrored hiking in at least one significant way: It nudged her out of her neighborhood and into ones that she might not otherwise experience.
“As an ambassador, I appreciate the opportunity to go out and meet people in different parts of town,” she said. “I get to talk to them about their park and help them understand what resources are available to help them make the park what they want it to be.”
When she is hosting an informational table for APF, Ramos says that people often express more than just their opinions about parks—they share personal stories or neighborhood history. She’s always grateful for these fresh perspectives.
“These conversations can really put you in new places,” she said. “If you don’t have first-hand experience with a different part of town, a different event, a different culture…you don’t really know it. You only know what you see on TV or hear in sound bites.”
Of all the parks in Austin, Ramos has a special fondness for Bull Creek District Park and its surrounding greenbelt. This lush spot in northwest Austin is what keeps her volunteering year after year.
“My main motivation is that I can remember the time I came to Bull Creek and got turned off because it was so trashy,” she said. “I thought it was a bad park. But it’s not—it’s a beautiful park! So now my goal is to encourage people with good intentions to get into the park more. If there’s a greater presence of thoughtful people, then maybe the ones leaving all the trash will be outnumbered and less likely to litter.”
Despite the challenges of trash and disrespectful visitors, Ramos believes parks are a necessary antidote to the concrete urban life that so many Austinites live.
“There’s so much natural diversity and native plants here,” she said. “The fact that we have green spaces means we have wildlife. Just being able to say, ‘I saw a snake today’…it’s so fun! And you have an opportunity IN YOUR CITY! You don’t have to drive across the state.”
“For a lot of people, parks means the opportunity to have an outdoor space to have a party or picnic. But for me, it think it’s important to have that exposure to different kinds of plant and animal life. And then to have the chance to ask questions about it all…and to dig around…and to find answers…and finally, to protect it all.”
The APF Ambassador program trains volunteers to serve as representatives for APF. The program provides a unique and meaningful volunteer experience that allows residents to play a pivotal role in strengthening our city’s parks. Find out more, and consider getting involved today!
People + Parks is a series by writer and photographer Elizabeth McGuire and is dedicated to showcasing the people who make our work possible. Check out other stories by choosing the People + Parks category on our blog.