Volunteers founded the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy in 1991, and stewards continue to be the lifeblood of the organization. Opportunities to contribute – and to learn, get exercise, teach, and enjoy and care for the beautiful Preserve — abound. We offer ten programs, listed below, that range from rugged outdoor work to public outreach to education of our youth. There are many interesting educational programs for stewards, along with varied opportunities to pass that knowledge on to others. Many stewards are involved with the creation of new projects. All support the mission.

In short, you can expect to “Do some good, learn some stuff, get some exercise, share your talents, and make new friends.”

To become a steward, you will complete an orientation class full of fun and information. You will then complete two educational classes and participate in several program activities on your path to becoming a full steward. To learn more, visit Becoming a Volunteer.

Stewardship is a Choice

As a Steward, there are commitments.

  • Time. Give your time to the Conservancy by participating in program activities across multiple programs and functions. This may well vary over time, but should reach at least 60 hours/year.
  • Treasure. Make a gift to the Conservancy by donating in accordance with your ability. This may well vary over time, but should begin with $60/year.

In addition, stewards are encouraged to help fulfill two important needs.

  • Support. Play active roles over time, not only in the Preserve and public-facing activities, but also in the non-field support activities that make the more visible Conservancy activities possible.
  • Leadership. As your experience and knowledge grow, you are expected to seek out and accept leadership roles at various levels within the organization.
Become a Steward

Trailhead Ambassadors

Construction and Maintenance

4th of July Fire Watch


Click on the title/icon below to learn more about each program offered to our volunteer stewards by McDowell Sonoran Conservancy.


Helping People Explore and Learn About the Preserve

The Guided Hike & Bike program offers education and fitness-oriented tours in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for the general public and for private groups. the program includes hike and mountain bike guided tours to promote the Preserve and to educate the diverse audiences who visit.

Ambassadors and Advocates on the Trails

Patrol Stewards monitor over 225 miles of beautiful trails on foot, mountain bike and horseback.  We are the eyes and ears for the Conservancy and the City of Scottsdale on the trails, on patrol to support the objectives of the Preserve. We are also the face of the Preserve for visitors on the trails, helping them enjoy the Preserve safely as they learn more about this very special place. Patrol Stewards are McDowell Sonoran Conservancy volunteers who educate visitors and help them enjoy their visit to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in a safe manner. They also observe and report on unsafe trail conditions so they can be repaired and made safe again. 

Ambassadors and Advocates at the Trailheads

Trailhead Ambassadors are McDowell Sonoran Conservancy steward volunteers who serve as ‘trailhead hosts’ for the City of Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Trailhead Ambassadors help visitors to the Preserve pick the best hikes by learning their interests, abilities and the amount of time they have to spend on that visit.

Trailhead Ambassadors are stationed at major Preserve trailheads and perform the following services:

  • Welcome visitors to the Preserve by initiating interaction, being friendly and positive.
  • Promote visitors’ safety by assessing and advising visitors on preparation for desert activities (e.g., need for water, a cell phone, a map, a hat and sturdy shoes) and informing them about Conservancy guidelines for “sharing the trails” with people, cyclists and animals.
  • Guide trail choices by asking how long visitors wish to go and what kind of terrain or sights they are seeking; then recommending trials and routes accordingly.
  • Promote the Preserve and Conservancy by answering questions about its flora, fauna, history, geology, describing the relationship with the City of Scottsdale, describing the work of the Conservancy and ways to support it.

Preserving the Past

The PastFinders Program focuses on the human history and the cultural resources of the McDowell Mountain region by researching, preserving, protecting and sharing the historical heritage of our area.

Citizen Science/Projects

Conservancy stewards who volunteer as citizen scientists typically have a science-minded curiosity and desire to ask questions, work in a professional manner, participate in lifelong learning and share what they have learned. It is a permanent program run by volunteers who work side by side with professional scientists on Parsons Field Institute research projects. By becoming a citizen scientist, you can expect to meet interesting people, learn about new concepts and creatures, participate in science projects, get great exercise and have fun.

Typical Citizen Science project areas are:

  • Animal Monitoring
  • Phenology (Plant Lifecycle)
  • Monitoring
  • Non-native Plants
  • Restoration
  • Corridor Viability
  • Water Resource

Ensuring Access to the Preserve

The Construction & Maintenance (C&M) program works closely with City of Scottsdale staff to maintain the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, utilizing the time and talents of an all-volunteer workforce to perform work including trail maintenance, non-native plant removal, trimming vegetation and trailhead area beautification. C&M efforts help assure safe, barrier-free access to the Preserve for visitors of all ages.

Construction & Maintenance workers are Stewards and members of the public who volunteer their time and talents to maintain more than 225 miles of Preserve trails. Their program of work includes:

  • Scheduled Steward projects to perform trail maintenance through ongoing preventative maintenance or as required due to trail conditions
  • Periodic corporate projects, Eagle Scout projects and community service days in which C&M trains and supervises non-Steward volunteers
  • Cooperative efforts with the Conservancy’s Field Institute and Citizen Science program to remove non-native plants using best scientific practices
  • Additional training for experienced C&M Steward volunteers to become crew leaders capable of managing C&M projects without additional supervision; and
  • Ad hoc small crew leader projects to quickly address maintenance issues identified in patrol reports or other communications

Bringing the Preserve to Life Through Education

The Youth Education Program provides standards-based interactive learning experiences in the classroom and Preserve that bring awareness and promote appreciation of the Sonoran Desert and natural open spaces.

What We Do

The Steward Experience program serves the Conservancy’s pillar of Stewardship through three teams:

Steward Insights: We provide primary research through surveys and data mining through Better Impact to determine steward motivations and volunteering trends.

Steward Communications: We work with staff and CLT leadership to develop and manage various forms of communications including Steward World, emails, and the Steward newsletter.

Steward Recognition: We develop the plans and implementation of Conservancy recognition to highlight steward achievements at the annual awards event and during the year.

We welcome stewards who want to help enhance the steward experience and who bring critical thinking skills and fresh ideas to our efforts. This includes experience in HR, communications, leadership and training, NFP management and research/data analysis.

What We Do

Empower steward volunteers with the knowledge, skills and confidence for excellence in stewardship.

Onboarding New Stewards – train, mentor and inspire new stewards

Ongoing Steward Development – continuous improvement of skills and knowledge of the Preserve, Conservancy, Sonoran Desert and Desert First Aid.

Steward Development – prepare Stewards for opportunities in leadership and develop interpretation skills.

Steward Events – plan and conduct informative and inspiring all-steward events

What We Do

The Community Engagement Program advances the Conservancy’s engagement with local communities to ensure more people know about the Conservancy, the Preserve, and the key role everyone can play in protecting natural open spaces for all to enjoy now and for generations to come. This plan is managed through:

  • Outreach Events – Festivals and other publicly attended venues.
  • Speaker’s Bureau –Seek opportunities for our speakers to educate participants on topics pertaining to the desert, history of the area, conservation and deliver our message as stated in the mission statement.
  • Lecture Series – At COS libraries, HOAs and other venues.
  • Group Volunteer Opportunities – Engage with companies and other non-profit groups to design and deliver programs.
  • Exploration – Any opportunities that would be an appropriate venue to share our message.
  • Analysis – Measure the impact of these opportunities.

Looking for a Different Level of Commitment?

We understand the demands on time and schedules, and being a steward may not fit into your plans at this time. We also offer service days and periodic volunteer events within the Preserve and the City of Scottsdale, so please keep an eye out for those opportunities.

Also know that your financial contributions go a long way to help our programming in the Preserve, education outreach in Title 1 Schools, and further our scientific research within the Sonoran Desert!

Protect Your Sonoran Desert

The Power to Sustain the Sonoran Desert for Future Generations is Yours