Cambrian: Opinion

Walk your way to better health while helping others

Walking on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.
Walking on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Special to The Cambrian

A faux heart attack — that moment when the ER doctor said that it was time to lighten the loads that I lift and to get more walking in — inspired today’s column. While the ER nurse peeled off the EKG electro pads that showed that my heart was fine, the doctor suggested, “Gardening is good, but have someone else carry in the heavy bags of potting soil. Remember, walking is ‘man’s best medicine,’ to quote Hippocrates.”

According to a brochure from the American Heart Association, research has shown that walking at least 30 minutes a day can help you:

▪  Reduce your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

▪  Improve your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and blood lipid profile.

▪  Maintain your body weight and lower the risk of obesity.

▪  Enhance your mental well-being.

▪  Reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

▪  Reduce your risk of breast and colon cancer.

▪  Reduce your risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes.

With that advice, the list of walking events with a docent or nature volunteer listed in The Cambrian caught my attention. When I thought of the physical benefits of walking and the overall benefit of volunteering, I sensed a perfect well-being path.

Both Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and California State Parks train volunteer guides and docents to lead specialized walks. The benefits are priceless: fitness, education and community service.

Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve (FFRP) coordinates docents who lead walks on the forest loop and bluff trails, as well as special interest walks with experts on archeology, birds, mushrooms and marine mammals.

Joyce Renshaw started the volunteer walking guides program. “About 10 years ago when I joined the board of FFRP, one of our charges and missions was education, and no one had done this before (docent-led walks). It was something I could do instead of weeding,” Renshaw explained in an email.

Most of the walkers are visitors, but locals do take their favorite docent-lead trails, she noted. With Stephen Beck, who is in charge of the general Ranch Walks program and training, Renshaw coordinates the specialty walks. A recent example is a walk with Don Canestro, reserve director on the UC Ken Norris Rancho Marino Reserve, who led a grass walk on the Fiscalini Ranch where he shared his knowledge about native and non-native grasses on the ranch.

“We can always use docents,” Renshaw said. “The training is about four hours and then following a trained docent on three walks.”

To learn more about this program, visit

Also, circle Saturday, July 30, for the 16th annual Great Kitchens of Cambria Tour that benefits FFRP.

California State Parks host walks in Harmony Headlands, Estero Bluffs, at the Rock, Black Hill, Morro Bay Marina, Cerro Cabrillo, Los Osos Oaks, Montaña de Oro, the Butterfly Grove and on the dunes. Presently, about 34 persons are volunteer walk docents. Faylla Chapman, Docent Education Chair, Morro Bay Museum of Natural History, said the call for volunteer walk docents goes out twice a year.

“The way to becoming a docent is through our training program,” Chapman began. “We generally offer two trainings a year, spring and fall. These are the general trainings and require three half-days with trips to each of the three parks to see what is offered. This accounts for about 12 hours of general training. Then, when a trainee has chosen a specific position, there is an advanced training with a mentor for about 15 hours before the trainee can work alone. There are general and specific requirements that must be met in order for a trainee to become a full docent and earn the docent badge. Since the State Parks are the second biggest educational institution in California, we want to be sure that our docents are well trained, know how to work with the public and hand out correct information.”

New walk docents must learn another docent’s walk and then “give that walk several times with the mentor before the trainee is allowed to do the walk by him/herself,” Chapman explained.

The walks are popular, with the bird walks the favorite.

If you become a walk docent, you will meet visitors, families, and, according to Chapman, “We get a lot of college students because part of their requirement in biology at Cuesta is to take nature walks of some kind.”

Those interested in learning more about becoming a walk docent, or any other volunteer opportunity with the State Parks, can visit

Two large bags of potting soil wait for reassignment in the garden. One faux heart attack was enough for me for this decade. I’m thinking a walk through the forest in Fiscalini Ranch makes more sense.

Charmaine Coimbra’s column on volunteering appears the fourth Thursday of each month and is special to The Cambrian.