When student groups visit the San Elijo Lagoon, volunteer docents guide them through the wetland, teaching them about the different plants and animals as well as the importance of the sensitive habitat.
"Docents help bring nature to life for the rest of the community," said Andy Mauro, president of the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.
Educating the public, and especially the next generation of environmental stewards, about the San Elijo Lagoon is a crucial element to the ongoing protection of the few remaining wetlands.
"The more people we can expose to the lagoon and the wonders of it, we know they start to care about it and are more inclined to protect it," said Tara Fuad, education coordinator for the conservancy.
The conservancy is looking for enthusiastic volunteers to guide student groups and visitors through the lagoon. A docent training program begins Oct. 8.
The seven Wednesday morning sessions will cover the basics of the wetlands ecosystem, from plants and wildlife to geology and archeology.
"You don't have to become a hardcore biologist," Fuad said. "We teach them enough to talk to the public about what's going on in the lagoon."
The only requirement to become a docent is a passion for the outdoors. Enjoying working with children is also a plus.
"We want people who appreciate nature and enjoy sharing that with others," Fuad said.
With the new nature center slated to open early 2009, the conservancy is anticipating an influx of school groups visiting the lagoon.
Currently, there are about 24 active docents. Fuad said she is hoping to get at least 10, if not another 20, docents prepared by next spring.
The training will include classroom lectures and time in the field. Along with wetland basics, docents will learn how to read and engage a group at its comprehension level, and how to have students become detectives by using their senses.
After the training, volunteers shadow experienced docents before heading out on their own. Volunteers are asked to lead a minimum of 12 walks per year, mostly during the more popular fall and spring seasons.
The conservancy hosts monthly lectures to help docents continue their education. The meetings are also an opportunity for docents to share stories and ideas about leading walks.
Margaret Parry has led school group tours for several years. She said she enjoys introducing students to the lagoon.
"So many kids do not have the opportunity to be out in nature," Parry said. "It's really fun to see children when they're out there, how excited they are just seeing lizards, a perfect spider web or mullet jumping out of the water."
Even as a self-taught naturalist, Parry said she felt she needed note cards when she first began leading tours. But she quickly learned to let the talking points evolve with the walk.
"As soon as you have kids around you, you can't be looking at a card," Parry said.
Mauro, who has led tours for 12 years, said it gave him an excellent excuse to spend time outdoors and reconnect with nature.
"It made a big difference in my life," Mauro said. "I think it would in anybody's life."
The training will be held every Wednesday between Oct. 8 and Nov. 19 at Cardiff Library or the San Elijo Lagoon from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The training costs $35 for members and $65 for non-members, which covers the cost of materials and a yearlong Conservancy membership.
For more information, go to
- To sign up, call Tara Fuad at (760) 436-3944.