Talk about a post-retirement vocation that sticks. Fifteen years ago, when Bill Gomez retired from his position as a pharmaceutical executive, he vowed to get involved in environmental education. A friend soon steered him to Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve (JRBP), Stanford University’s western-most 1,200 acres, located just a few hilltops away from his Atherton home.
He volunteered to become a docent and was soon back at school. Training requires two Stanford biology courses taken over two quarters, focusing on ecology and ecological research, part classroom-based and part in the field. The classes have a mix of Stanford students and future docents. And while the students are transient, moving on after graduation, the community members form an ongoing pool of volunteers.
“Serving as a docent is an opportunity to be outdoors in a stimulating environment, both physically and mentally,” Bill said. “At the same time, you’re learning and doing educational outreach. I’ve always enjoyed helping out with research projects. It’s the mix that’s really satisfying.”
Over the years, Bill has worked on a research project on major climate change, focusing on how California grasslands respond. He’s also been involved in a study about the ecology of a plant called sticky monkey flower. “Studying it is a wonderful way to teach students how to approach ecological research,” he says.
We joined Bill recently on a tour of Jasper Ridge, including an area called the Serpentine, known for its display of spring wildflowers. “This year, with all the rain, the grasses are shading out the flowers, making it not an ideal wildflower year.”
He pointed out the genetic diversity on the Ridge. Pink flowers called Linanthus parvilorus are on the northwest side of the Serpentine. Just a few yards away in sandstone soil, the flowers are white. “It was studying the Serpentine,” said Bill, “that Paul Erlich developed his theory of co-evolution.”
Jasper Ridge was named for a type of rock and includes Searsville Lake. The land has been used for research since Stanford University opened. It was dedicated to research activity only in 1973. People interested in a docent-led tour of the Ridge should call (650) 823-5423.
Photos by Scott Loftesness