Zach Brunner and Lassen Park Foundation
By Melissa Mendonca
Peak of GivingJuly 2015
By Melissa Mendonca
The hike to Lassen Peak is described in the official park brochure as strenuous, and one that can lead to a crater “where a lingering rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulfide reminds visitors that Lassen is ever-active.” It takes about four to five hours and encompasses a series of switchbacks along a rocky ledge.
It's a challenge, for sure, one studded with stunning vistas and potential for remarkable memories. And 9-yearold Zach Brunner of Los Altos simply can't wait to experience it.
“I really want to climb to the top of the volcano,” says the third grader, who has been visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park with his family over the last four years. “I think that will feel good because a lot of my donations were sent to help build that trail up to the peak. I can't wait to climb it!”
Just as Zach's family, including parents David and Sonia and older brother, Owen, have made experiencing national parks an integral part of their vacations – in 2015 alone they've already been to the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion – so too have they made giving to their favorite places a family value.
It started when Owen was gearing up for his seventh birthday party. “We just had too many presents, too much stuff,” says Sonia. They decided to turn a time typically reserved for receiving into a time of giving. Owen asked his friends to forgo presents and consider a small donation to his favorite place, Yosemite.
When Zach's birthday rolled around, he decided to collect donations, as well. The first year, he turned them over to his school. Then his family made their first visit to Lassen Park. Zach knew he'd found a very special place, one he'd want to return to again and again. He also knew he'd found the new place to support with his birthday donations.
“I like how it's just calm and peaceful and there are hikes that aren't very populated,” he says. “I've found very cool moths shaped like animals and there's some bark with cool colors. It's just nature stuff. There's also grasshoppers and other animals around.” Zach enjoys camping with his family and says he's as fond of campsite exploration as he is hiking and swimming. “It's fun to not sleep in a bed and to sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag,” he says.
As an annual donor, and the youngest one at that, Zach has caught the attention of the Lassen Park Foundation, the nonprofit organization which supports the park beyond the investments made by the federal government.
“The Lassen Park Foundation's Board of Directors have been very inspired by Zach's generosity to the Foundation,” says Executive Director Kristen Gray. “So much so that in 2013 they unanimously voted him onto our board as an honorary director. Zach is invited to our board meetings and was able to attend our January meeting in Vacaville.”
In his leadership role, Zach's input has been sought in the development of a new youth group camp site. The dedicated area will greatly increase the capacity of youth groups to camp throughout the summer and into the off seasons. Zach's suggestion: a series of short trails in close proximity to the campsite so kids may safely explore if they wake up before the adults in their group.
For all of his experience at Lassen and with its rangers and supporters, Zach hasn't yet reached the peak because the trail has been closed for renovation. To further the project along, Zach has requested that his birthday offerings support the project. His mom looks forward to that adventure as well, “One of my biggest memories as a kid was hiking Lassen Peak,” she says. “It was hard.” She's now eager to share that experience with her whole family.
“When he goes to Lassen, he meets people who say thank you,” Sonia says of her son. “That kind of exposure makes my sons really lifelong stewards because they have that view of what it takes to keep a park going and to protect it.”
True to his role as an advocate and supporter of the National Park system, Zach encourages
others to explore his favorite place. “There are a lot of good hikes in Lassen,” he says. “People should try to experience them and the national parks they're close to. Even if it's a three-hour drive away, I think it's definitely worth the experience.”