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Local Volunteer Creates Massive Wildflower Database, Wins National Award

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Take a hike with Tony Valois in the Santa Monica Mountains and you're likely to see things much differently than the average hiker. For Valois, a volunteer with the National Park Service, the mountains are a living, breathing and ever-changing landscape of beauty, wonder and excitement. What's this flower? He has the answer. How about this grass? Yeah, he knows it. What can be said about this tree? Nothing gets beyond him and if he doesn't know, he'll be quick to figure it out.

Valois, who has lived at Circle X Ranch (home to the tallest point in the mountain range, Sandstone Peak) as a volunteer campground host since 2002, would often field wildflower questions by hikers. His first solution was to show them digital photos to help in identification. Soon the photo collection grew and he decided there needed to be a solution. So in 2004, he took his passion for photography and flowers and website know-how to make an online Flower Finder for ones found within the Santa Monica National Recreation Area.

"At that point it was just some lists of names," Valois explained. "At first I figured, 'oh, i'll do 40, 50 60 of the really common ones -- everyone wants to look at a rose, right? Everyone wants to look at a lily.' And so that was initially my plan, to just put some of our most attractive flowers on the website." But by the end of 2004, his list had grown to some 300 species accompanied by photos.