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 nine 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 Nature Guides Program provides opportunities for the community and visitors to learn about the value, significance and wonder of the Sonoran Desert through interactive tours and trailside learning on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. We promote stewardship of natural open space by fostering an appreciation of the natural and cultural resources of the Sonoran Desert.

The Nature Guide Program offers activities that include the following:

Interpretive Guided Tours:
Nature Guide Stewards provide educational theme-based interpretive tours for school age children, senior groups, scouts, families and private groups. These hikes are conducted as “walk and talks” and are led by Nature Guides who use the plants, animals, and geologic features seen on the trail as well as preserved specimens to teach the participants about the Preserve and Sonoran Desert.

  • Trailside Naturalist Stations:
    Trailside Naturalists provide educational table displays at various trailheads usually on Saturday mornings using hands-on material, specimens, pictures and activities. The atmosphere is an informal one, allowing the visitors to ask questions.
  • Sonoran Sundays:
    These scheduled afternoon presentations about plants, animals, geology, and desert safety are designed to connect the community to the wonders of the Preserve. They are given by individuals from our partner organizations, as well as Stewards.
  • Spectacular Saguaro:
    This is our classroom workshop and accompanying field trip program for 3rd graders that is based on STEAM principles.


What We Do

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

Stewardship 101 – recruit, train and inspire new stewards

Mentoring – train and support effective mentors who guide new stewards through the badging process

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

Steward Engagement – develop ways to engage stewards; survey stewards to advance program effectiveness and high-quality volunteer management

Steward Recognition – recognize steward achievements.

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

The Conservancy provides impactful education to the public, sharing knowledge about the flora, fauna, geology and human history of the Sonoran Desert and the Preserve. The Conservancy provides expert speakers on Sonoran Desert topics, educational hikes utilizing the McDowell Sonoran Preserve as a classroom, and free public lectures providing in-depth information about various desert topics. You will be provided with the knowledge and tools through online videos, newsletters, in-classroom learning and specialized training designed to enhance your understanding.  

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