Back to Natives Restoration

Excellence in Volunteerism Award Winner

OC Community Resources
OC Parks, Mason Regional Park & Caspers Wilderness Park
Back to Natives Restoration

Pictured from left to right - Reginald Durant,
Erica Beggan, Lori Whalen, John Kaiser & Christine Nguyen.

ACTION: What level of involvement does the award winning volunteer program promote?

Back To Natives Restoration (BTN) is dedicated to the restoration and conservation of Orange County and California wilderness areas through education and restoration programs that feature native plants. Currently, BTN assists staff at both Mason Regional Park in Irvine and Caspers Wilderness Park in San Juan Capistrano to re-establish native habitat.

The Mason Park wilderness area that BTN is actively restoring is a flood plain that was smothered with dredge spoils from Newport Back Bay several years ago. Initial landscaping attempts within the area failed, resulting in a proliferation of weeds and non-native plants. As part of the restoration project, BTN worked methodically to determine which native plants prosper in the area. This process will help re-establish the flood plain’s role in purifying water and also create a productive habitat for a variety of wildlife.

NEED: What community need does the award winning volunteer program address?

BTN coordinates service learning projects for high school and college students in the Mason Regional Park phase III wilderness area and in Caspers Wilderness Park. To complete the projects, BTN recruits hundreds of student volunteers who assist in removing weeds and replacing the non-native growth with native plants and seeds. The students also help to monitor the progress of their habitat restoration projects.

IMPACT: What is different as a result of the award winning volunteer program?

BTN has successfully removed large areas of non-native mustard plants, replacing the destructive and invasive growth with native plants. In addition, BTN draws from a wealth of knowledge and expertise in working with students involved in habitat restoration projects. BTN instills a desire in young people to protect the natural environment through onsite training, education and hands-on experience. Students involved in the service learning projects gain a greater understanding of and respect for the habitat they are helping to restore. They learn the importance of protecting wilderness areas for future generations.

The service learning habitat restoration projects increase and improve habitat for native plants and animals within the project areas. Park visitors and community members see the restoration sites changing, and witness people volunteering consistently. These projects raise the community’s awareness of the importance of conserving and restoring habitat within OC Parks. The programs help contribute to improved visitor behavior and raise public awareness of actions that can be taken to promote environmental stewardship. Participants are encouraged to volunteer consistently and park visitors become more respectful of the parks’ resources.

INSPIRATION: What makes the award winning volunteer program unique/special?

Each month, a large number of volunteers are recruited through BTN to assist with restoration projects at Mason Regional Park and Caspers Wilderness Park. Volunteers are a vital resource for OC Parks in that they dedicate countless hours and high-level skills to enhance park services and provide essential staff support. Beyond recruiting, training and supervising volunteers, BTN immerses the students in the important job of habitat restoration and land conservation.


Reginald Durant and Lori Whalen provide outstanding leadership within the BTN organization. In 2008, they recruited 332 volunteers to assist with habitat restoration at Mason Regional Park. The volunteers contributed more than 831 service hours. Reggie and Lori recruited an additional 66 volunteers in 2008 who dedicated more than 230 hours to restoration projects at Caspers Wilderness Park. Over the past two years, Reggie and Lori have each volunteered more than 500 hours through BTN.

Click here to find out how you can volunteer with OC Parks, Adopt-A-Park.