When President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service Act on August 25, 1916, I wonder if he envisioned that 100 years later the attendance would climb to 307.2 million visits, setting a record in 2015. Along with the millions of visitors were 221,000 volunteers who helped make the parks a continuing place to be enjoyed by young and old alike.
I personally have volunteered on several occasions, including a species extinction prevention program in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, where the wild horses roam. I’ve set up a camera atop an enormous tree so kids could watch baby eagles at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Massachusetts, and I swam with the manatees at Homosassa Springs, Florida. Would you like to cruise on Lake Powell or give a tour in the Grand Canyon? All you have to do is show up and volunteer to work.
The best volunteers come with a general background and are willing to put in the effort. Those individuals can always find something that they can help with. No specific training is necessary to be a volunteer, and the various services have applications that try to match your personal background and desires with the work available. Some jobs involve a lot of contact, and some are utterly remote, such as jobs in the 77 million acres of wildlife refuge in Alaska.
One of the restrictions on volunteer opportunities is housing. Some areas may have limited housing for volunteers, with mobile homes, rustic cabins or simple tents. Those volunteers who have RVs or can provide their own camping equipment are very welcome.
Apache Sitgreaves National Forest has a Wilderness Ranger Program where volunteers promote proper camping techniques as well as provide backcountry contacts for campers. The Ranger Program also acts as eyes and ears for informing the park on needs and repairs to outlying areas. For companies looking to promote teamwork and provide a “green” return, there is no better way than to send a group to help out.
There are several programs and groups that promote volunteering statewide. There are even programs that involve children, including the National Park Service program Kids in the Woods, which promotes hands-on learning for children.
Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona has been working to match volunteers’ interests with projects since 1999. Carla Olson, former deputy director (or “Jane-of-all-trades” as she prefers to be called) once told me, “Being part of nature in real time gives back to the volunteers as much as they give. Giving back accelerates your appreciation but it takes some effort.”
Spending time in the great outdoors helping our parks and forests could be the best investment of time you ever make, and the return on that investment may be memories of a lifetime. The websites for the national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges are listed at the end of this article. A list of all of the volunteer areas is available through the websites, and you should contact the regional office of your choice to discuss the programs. Some programs may include meals and housing, but most include transportation to remotes sites, training, and a variety of work options. Many states also offer regional volunteer programs and should also be considered.
William Janhonen is a National Instructor for NAHB, HERS Rater, LEED Accredited Professional and construction consultant. He was the LEED Project Administrator for the LEED for Commercial Interiors Project at Sikorsky Aircraft, which recently achieved LEED Gold certification.
Volunteering in America, volunteeringinamerica.gov
AZ US Fish and Wildlife Service, fws.gov/volunteers
National Park Service, nps.gov/getinvolved/index.htm
US Forest Service, fs.fed.us/working-with-us/volunteers
Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona, voaz.org
Arizona Environmental Organizations, eco-usa.net/orgs/az.shtml
Kids in the Woods, fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/conservation
Images courtesy of Volunteers for Outdoor Arizona
Read more giving back articles at greenlivingaz.com/givingback