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Visitors walk the grounds during Family Days at the John Muir National Historical Site in Martinez, Calif., on Saturday, July 27, 2013. The event gave children and families a chance to connect with nature and experience aspects of Victorian life. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Custodians of the John Muir National Historic Site are always putting out the welcome mat, offering myriad free events for residents to experience firsthand that it is truly their park.

This Saturday, the staff and volunteers are hosting a Fall Family Fun Day, offering hands-on activities that will continue to bring people in closer contact with the amenities of the local national park.

This summer featured such events with its Victorian-era fare, from a game of horseshoes and candle dipping, to playing with bugs and pressing flowers, attracting 200 people to the park on one occasion.

"To see this many people enjoying themselves, it was gold," says park guide Daniel Prial.

There also have been campfires, when it may have been a first chance for a child to roast marshmallows under the stars.

"Hopefully it opens up their horizons," says lead park ranger Jim MacDonald.

Learning about the life of the famed naturalist is almost ancillary, Prial notes.

"No one is going to be out there with lesson plans," he says, also referring to their offering a "more expansive lens of history" and a paradigm shift in their thinking.

Prial refers to a former perception that the park's worth was attributable solely to the fact that John Muir once lived there, when instead "the value is coming from the (surrounding) community ... and we need to reach out to them," he says.


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On Saturday, along with ranger-led tours of John Muir's home and grounds, guests will plant bean seeds to take home, make ranger badges and go on a reverse scavenger hunt, identifying the property's various trees from an assortment of leaves.

Martinez resident Rhonda Beatty-Gallo, who's a volunteer gardener and interpreter at the site, will be facilitating the hunt.

"The kids get so excited about our park. We really want for everyone to know who John Muir is," says Beatty-Gallo, a former schoolteacher.

"This gets the public interacting more," adds Walnut Creek resident and 30-year volunteer Carol Tretten. "They're not just wandering through (Muir's) house."

Saturday's Family Fun Day also will include participants from Martinez' New Leaf Academy, its students charged with overseeing the bow drill booth. Visitors, young and old, can create a burning ember by rotating a stick against a flat piece of wood.

"One of our main goals is to let the community know about this incredible resource," MacDonald says. "Especially when you're an urban park like we are and you have a large, diverse community, it's important to reach out ... This is their park, and they are welcome with open arms."

if you go
What: Fall Family Fun Day
When: 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.,
Saturday, Nov. 16
Where: John Muir National Historic Site, 4202 Alhambra Avenue, Martinez
Cost: Free
Information: www.nps.gov/jomu, or call 925-228-8860