Service on an Island Paradise, Santa Catalina Island, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13288A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy restore natural vegetation
  • Visit historical sites
  • Learn about fascinating wildlife and flora


  • Bunk beds in two dorm tents -- women in one and men in the other
  • Hot showers
  • Transportation upon your arrival on the island


DatesSep 7–14, 2013
StaffLee Bowen

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Santa Catalina Island is just 20 miles from one of the world's largest metropolitan areas, yet much of its unique ecosystem remains intact. The island is a "mountain in the sea," rising 2,000 feet from the intertidal zone with rugged canyons and soaring ridgelines. Fifteen endemic species that exist nowhere else on earth are found on the island. Rare and endangered species, including the Catalina ironwood, Catalina mahogany (all six remaining mature trees), and the Catalina Island fox find protection here. Bald eagles have been reestablished here, and three pairs are successfully breeding on the island. Winter bird counts have documented over 80 species on an island with an area of 76 square miles.

Spanish explorers and early settlers introduced cattle and sheep to the island, and scars from the intense grazing can still be seen. In 1919, William Wrigley, Jr. acquired the controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company and one of the assets of the SCIC was ownership of the island. Over the next 56 years the Wrigleys initiated a variety of conservation practices. This interest in conservation culminated in the creation of the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy in 1972. The conservancy, a non-profit organization, is responsible for preserving the natural heritage of Santa Catalina and now manages thousands of acres of island wilderness. The organization has developed one of the nation's leading ecological restoration programs and offers a wide array of educational programs and volunteer opportunities. They are also our hosts for this trip.

The conservancy education staff has planned an evening campfire program for us, covering topics such as the ecology of the ironwood groves and the reintroduction of bald eagles to the island. We'll also learn about the program developed in cooperation with the Lakota tribe to control the island's buffalo population.

The Project

While the exact project we'll be working on is unknown at this time we'll most likely be restoring native species, repairing trails, or monitoring field plots.


It will be your responsibility to get to Santa Catalina Island. After you arrive at the dock on Santa Catalina, your trip leaders and a van will be waiting to take you to your campsite. Our trip will include at least one day off and possibly two. The typical workday will probably start around 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m., with a 30-minute lunch break. During time off we can hike the interior, shop in Avalon, or explore the rugged coast. Kayaks and bikes can be rented in Avalon.



Getting There

It's your responsibility to get to Santa Catalina Island and back to the mainland, and there are a couple of options available. If you're flying into Los Angeles, there is a shuttle service from LAX to the San Pedro terminal, which includes the ferry out to/back from Catalina Island and back to LAX for $112 (at this time): If you would prefer to drive to the San Pedro ferry terminal, parking is available ($15/day) and the round-trip ferry costs around $72.50 adult and $66 senior (at this time): When you arrive at Avalon on Catalina Island, your trip staff will meet you and take you to our campsite.

Accommodations and Food

The Conservancy is providing accommodations for us at the Laura Stein Volunteer Camp. The camp is about three miles from the town of Avalon and overlooks the Catalina Channel. We'll stay in two canvas-sided, dorm-style tents with padded cots -- women in one and men in the other.

Camp facilities include flush toilets and two showers. A complete kitchen is available with refrigerator, stove, and gas grill. Potable water is also available and will be provided at our work sites by the Conservancy. The Conservancy will also provide firewood and lanterns. Our campfire evenings should be lots of fun.

All meals will be vegetarian-friendly.

Trip Difficulty

This moderate-rated trip requires that you be fit. Since we will not be backpacking or hiking long distances, this trip is appropriate for beginners. However, in order to enjoy the trip to the fullest, you will need to be in good shape. A program of aerobic conditioning, starting at least three months before the trip, is suggested. Everyone will be allowed to work at his/her own pace.

Equipment and Clothing

Because we will not be backpacking, you won't need much of the equipment usually brought on service trips. You will need to carry your own things to the van, etc. Each participant will need to bring a sleeping bag, a day pack, at least two one-liter water bottles, a plastic container for lunches, and a basic first-aid kit.

Safety requires that all service trip volunteers work in sturdy long pants, boots, and leather gloves. These clothes will likely get dirty as we work. You will also need raingear and clothing that you can layer as temperatures fluctuate between 45 and 80 degrees, depending on where we are located on the island. Check out the conservancy website (linked below) for more weather details.

You may want binoculars (the island offers great birding!), cameras, flashlights, small musical instruments, or a novel. Sierra Club policy prohibits radios, tape players, or pets. You'll receive a more detailed equipment list from the leader before the trip begins.



Four USGS 7.5-minute quads cover the island: Santa Catalina North, South, East, and West.


The Conservancy has a great website with lots of information on the history and natural history of the island: 


The restoration of Santa Catalina's natural ecological processes is a great experiment. Given the fact that many of our urban areas are expanding and wildlands are increasingly fragmented, this effort provides vital insights into whether rare and endangered species and thousands of acres of wilderness habitat can survive next door to one of the world's largest metropolitan areas. This wilderness is being protected and preserved in the shadow of 13 million people. Volunteers like you are developing a sense of stewardship for not only this place, but for other places closer to your homes. In this kind of stewardship lies our greatest hope.

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.



Lee Bowen is a hardware store owner who enjoys biking and maintaining two trails in Shenandoah National Park when he isn’t entertaining three grandsons. He has led over 20 service trips from sea level at Olympic National Park to 11,000 feet at Piute Pass in the Sierra. He is excited about another sea level trip.


Alan King helped the staff on the Catalina Island trip last year. He is glad to go back there so soon since it is a beautiful and unique place. The campsite is great with gorgeous views from the porch.

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