Meet Your 2017 Champions

On Tuesday, July 18, we inducted a new list of distinguished honorees to our Park Champions hall of fame! Congratulations to our winner, Barbara Wallach, and to all four of our finalists: Sheila Alston, Patty Morton, Jennifer Palkovic and Mike Thacker. 


Hosted by County Parks and open to nominees representing organizations across San Diego, the Parks and Recreation Champion Awards program recognizes the best of the best in volunteerism for our industry. Honorees go above and beyond the call of duty:

  • Leading activities that bring people to parks
  • Developing programs that balance preservation with progress
  • Forging new connections through creative recreation opportunities 
  • Bringing positive change to San Diego’s recreation spaces   

(Pictured from left to right: Sheila Alston, Mike Thacker, Patty Morton, Barbara Wallah and Jennifer Palkovic)

Learn more about our winners:

Barbara Wallach – CHAMPION
Barbara Wallach is an incredibly active volunteer who has lead thousands of students through the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy’s Our Living Watershed program. She leads interpretation workshops, mentors new naturalists, and writes and edits the Conservancy’s published field books. Barbara is a big part of Family Discovery Days at the lagoon – developing interactive exhibits for kids and cool attractions along the trail. Always innovative, she continues to explore new ways to connect with people and to nurture the next generation of park ambassadors. 

Sheila Alston – FINALIST
Sheila Alston is a leader devoted to raising awareness about issues affecting seniors in San Diego. She is always seeking creative opportunities for education, outreach and activity. Based in North County, she works closely with the City of Oceanside and the El Corazon Senior Center. Sheila is a steadfast volunteer dedicated to community service, and a true philanthropist who develops and runs events to benefit adults aged 55 and older.

Patty Morton – FINALIST
Patty Morton has been an active leader in the San Marcos equestrian community for more than 20 years, serving in leadership positions like “Board Chair” for the Twin Oaks Valley Equestrian Association. Patty engages with local representatives, developers and business owners to create partnerships and foster fundraising opportunities. Among other accomplishments in her advocacy portfolio, she got the San Marcos City Council to proclaim May 15th as the Day of the Horse!

Jennifer Palkovic – FINALIST
Jennifer Palkovic founded Sienna’s PlayGarden Project to renovate the playground at Rolling Hills Neighborhood Park. Sienna’s PlayGarden Project was born out of love – inspired by her daughter – to bring an entire community together in a fun and family-friendly atmosphere. Jennifer is also a member of the Rancho Penasquitos Recreation Council and she works closely with the City of San Diego and other organizations to revitalize and enhance local parks. 

Mike Thacker – FINALIST
Mike Thacker has been an interpretive hike leader for the San Dieguito River Park and San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy since 1994. He was a dominant force in the development of a hike leader training program, affectionately named Mike’s Hikes. Every trek includes trail information along with useful, interesting facts about local plants, animals, fire ecology and history. He knows the terrain like the back of his hand and has used that knowledge to design memorable trail experiences for all to enjoy.

A panel of expert judges reviewed nominations on their own and as a group to select the 2017 winner. Finalists were judged on a specific set of criteria, with points awarded in 10 categories for a maximum potential score of 100.     

Past winners include Jim Wilson (Champion), Joan Kindle (Finalist), Terry Ann Larson (Finalist) and Naomi McLean (Finalist). View the article from the 2016 event.

Consider nominating your own champion in 2018! Get the latest nomination information at or contact Jessica Geiszler at 858-966-1331 or    

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