Formerly known as the Mount Tamalpais Interpretive Association – “a bit of a mouthful,” says longtime member Arlin Weinberger – the organization first incorporated and became a nonprofit in 1985, two years after a group of about 10 people became volunteers at the park.
Though it’s been around for three decades and serves up an array of programs and services, Weinberger says even longtime users of one of the best state parks in California might be surprised by how much the organization does to support and promote the park.
“We have a lot going on – we just love this park and want to help everyone engage with it,” Weinberger says.
Members of the Friends of Mt. Tam staff the park’s Visitor Center on weekends and holidays, a tradition that dates back to the group’s inception. In doing so, they suggest the best places on the mountain to visit and help people plan hikes that are customized to their needs and interests. Volunteers also educate visitors on the park’s history and its diverse flora and fauna.
While the group’s role at the Visitor Center dates back nearly three decades, another of its components is much more recent. The Gravity Car Barn, opened on the mountain’s East Peak in May 2009, houses a replica of a gravity car and an interpretive display from the days of “The Crookedest Railroad in the World” – the Mill Valley & Muir Woods Railway – which ran on Mt. Tamalpais from 1896 to 1929. Friends’ volunteers staff the Barn on weekends.
The organization’s approximately 240 members can be found all over the Park, not just in the Visitor Center and Gravity Car Barn or on its trail maintenance outings such as Earth Day. Members lead hikes for the public every Saturday and Sunday as well as on holidays, Wednesday evenings during the summer and moonlight hikes each month on the full moon, all of which are free.
The hikes, which tally more than 120 per year, range in focus from wildflowers to moonlight adventures to myriad day hikes with ratings based on mileage and elevation gain.
“Hiking is clearly our most important program,” Weinberger says.
Few of the Friends’ efforts can match the popularity of its free Astronomy Program, a 25-year-old event that occurs at the Mountain Theater on the new moon of the months of April through October. The programs, which regularly draw 200-300 people, are held at the Mountain Theater and feature scientists and astronomers giving lectures to both budding star finders and longtime astronomy buffs, with a chance to use telescopes in the amphitheater’s parking lot afterwards.
“It’s just amazing,” Weinberger says.
The 411: The Friends of Mt. Tam is currently seeking new members. Click here for more info.