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Native tribe wins accolades at Pinnacles

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band received national recognition for volunteering at Pinnacles National Park in 2013.

The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band has received national recognition for its work at Pinnacles National Park in collaborating with the Universities of California, Santa Cruz and Berkeley to conduct two research projects that took an innovative approach to habitat restoration. The projects integrated traditional Native American land management practices with contemporary techniques to restore and protect the natural and cultural processes in the unique California grassland system.

The tribe was awarded the 2012 George and Helen Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service by a group on Feb. 21. The award is named for George Hartzog, Jr., a former National Park Service director who started the Volunteers-In-Parks Program in 1970.

“It really is well deserved and it’s a significant recognition of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band’s tremendous contribution,” said Mark Paxton, the interim executive director of the Pinnacles Partnership, a nonprofit that supports the park. “A very effective partnership has been formed.”

Paxton noted that the resdesignation of Pinnacles from a monument to a park on Feb. 18 included the Amah Mutsun as part of an effort to recognize the contributions to the park’s history by all people in the region.

“The Amah Mutsun give the park a better-rounded cultural identity,” Paxton said. “A lot of the Park’s mission is around appreciation and restoration of native plants that were historically used by the Amah Mutsun.”

During the research projects, volunteers and students reintroduced a traditional burn to the Pinnacles landscape with tribal elders making the first ignition. Tribal volunteerism at the park has also enriched interpretive stories and programs, understanding of the park’s natural and cultural resources, and strategic planning. They shared cultural practices and philosophies relevant to the past and present through dance, song and storytelling.

In 2011, tribal volunteers worked alongside U.C. Berkeley archaeologists and students to conduct surveys as part of the first archaeological filed school.

“The George and Helen Hartzog Awards honor the distinguished group of individuals that proudly give of themselves to make the National Park Service a stronger and more vibrant institution,” said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. “We recognize the profound contributions each of them have made, and the important work being done by volunteers across the national park system, in honor of the great legacy started by George Hartzog and carried on today by his wife Helen. Thanks to the contributions of these private citizens the national parks are more than America’s best idea. They represent America at its best.”

Other honorees included:

• Brett Oppegaard, who received the Hartzog Individual Service Award for work at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

• Brianna Machuga, who received the Hartzog Youth Volunteer Service Award at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

• Student Organization for Aquatic Robotics, which received the Hartzog Youth Group Volunteer Service Award at Isle Royale National Park

• Everglades National Park, which received the Hartzog Park Program Volunteer Service Award

• Robin Goddard, who received the Hartzog Enduring Volunteer Service Award at Great Smoky Mountains National Park for 43 years of volunteering