Tuesday, April 24, 2007

REI Crew Opens the Trail of the Shadows

The first of many SCA-led volunteer projects was completed by a group of store managers from REI, who spent several hours in the rain on April 24 getting the Trail of the Shadows ready for summer visitors.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Field Notes

The volunteer program for summer 2007 continues to accelerate. As you’ll see on our project page, the calendar is starting to fill up with projects, especially trail repair, that will be accomplished this summer with the help of volunteers. We are immensely grateful for that assistance, and look forward to working with people who care about Mount Rainier as much as we do!

Most of the projects on the calendar so far are marked “full,” “coming soon,” or “to be determined.” There are good reasons for this. Most of the projects are listed “full” as soon as they’re posted because they represent existing relationships between the park and volunteer groups who have helped us out on a recurring basis in the past. By this writing, we’ve received offers of volunteer assistance from upwards of 2,000 new individuals and group members, and we hope to find projects for as many of those people as possible. But remember that Mount Rainier already worked with 924 volunteers last year, most of whom will be returning this summer. Supervisors have, naturally, assigned their first volunteer projects to the groups they already have established relationships with.
More projects will be forthcoming, and hopefully soon. There will certainly be lots more to do on the park’s trails than is currently represented on the list. These projects will proliferate as the snow melts over the next two months and the actual trail damage becomes visible. That will also help to resolve some of the “to be determined” designations. We won’t be able to assign specific projects on specific dates until we know when sites will be snow free and accessible.
My SCA counterparts and I have been meeting with park supervisors to come up with a wide range of other projects to add to the list as well. The ideas are almost endless. Every project, of course, requires planning. What needs to be done? What tools and supplies are required? Do we have these things on hand, or do we need to obtain them? Do we have enough money in our budget to obtain them, or do we need to wait for fundraising to occur first? Is the project eligible for flood recovery funds, or does it need to be paid for out of general operating funds? What level of supervision and training will be required? Can the project be done by a group independently, or will it require the assistance of Park Service crews? When are such crews available? Will prep work be needed, or follow-up? What priority does the project have in relation to other projects? Will campsites be needed for visiting volunteers? If so, how many, and are spaces available? Will volunteers need to be readily identifiable as volunteers (e.g. patrolling trails at Sunrise), and if so, how can we accomplish that? What safety issues need to be taken into consideration? How about weather contingencies? Will transportation be needed to the work site, and if so, how will that be arranged? How strenuous is the project, and is it suitable for families or groups? Could the project have an impact on sensitive natural or cultural resources, and if so, how can these impacts be mitigated?
You can see very quickly that planning a massive volunteer project is not, well, quick. Yet we are confident that, slowly, we’ll get there, and in another month or two there will be opportunities for volunteers to get involved all over the park on an almost daily basis. Meanwhile, the first of our SCA crew leaders has arrived for the summer, and more will be arriving shortly. The road from Nisqually Entrance to Paradise will finally open, after six months of closure, on May 5. The Student Conservation Association is perfecting an online signup program that should allow you to register for volunteer projects right from your computer, without having to send information to my already overburdened e-mail box. SCA staff are also helping out tremendously with the task of returning your phone calls and e-mail inquiries. (Imagine returning phone calls from 2,000 people without such help!)
Exciting things are happening. Keep watching this website for updates as they occur.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Field Notes

Park Ranger Alison Robb describes the proposed site for the Student Conservation Association Field Camp to SCA project managers Willie Ehrenclou and Jill Baum

It may not look like it on the surface, but behind the scenes, there's a tremendous amount going on in preparation for our summer volunteer season. Most significantly this past week, Jill Baum and Willie Ehrenclou, both project managers with the Student Conservation Association (SCA), arrived to help coordinate our volunteer effort for the summer. They have hit the ground running, and are busy identifying volunteer projects, hiring crew leaders, and developing a field camp in the old Longmire Campground where our crew leaders will live for the summer season. In addition, Ali Saperstein in the Seattle SCA office is assisting us part-time to improve our ability to effectively match up park supervisors with potential volunteers.
We sat down on Thursday with Carl Fabiani, Mount Rainier's Trails Foreman, to discuss specific projects for our volunteer opportunities calendar. In most cases, it's still too early to put anything definite down on paper yet, because the snow is just beginning to melt out at the lowest elevations, and because our trail crew leaders are just now coming on board for the summer. Carl's assistant, Julie Okita, will arrive April 16, and with her help, we should be able to start filling the early part of the calendar with specific trail projects. We know there will be lots of work to do--our patrol rangers recently discovered another 3/4 of a mile of trail washed out on the way to Glacier Basin, for instance, and our owl survey crews have reported several more bridges out on the East Side Trail.

We're starting to get projects from other programs in the park as well. Like the trails program, now that seasonal staff is starting to arrive, we're able to plan more effectively what our work for the summer will be, and how we'll add volunteers to the team. By the end of this month, we anticipate that we'll have a healthy list of short-term volunteer opportunities on our projects page.
We're also organizing our mailing list, so that as projects are identified, we'll be able to match them up with those of you who've already offered to help. Some of you may be getting return phone calls in the next few weeks, either with specific project proposals, or to confirm tentative project dates, with details to be determined later. We understand that you need to plan ahead too! It looks like, with a few exceptions, most of our work will begin in May: when our seasonal workforce arrives, when the snow melts a little more, and (a matter of no small importance) when our roads reopen. With more staff, we can better plan and begin to supervise our summer projects; with bare ground, we can better see what's damaged and what needs to be done; and when the first of our roadwork is completed--hopefully around the end of this month or the beginning of next, between Nisqually Entrance and Paradise--we'll actually be able to get to the places where we need to work.
I'll be joining my family for a week of spring break starting tomorrow, but Jill and Willie will be working hard in my absence to continue our preparations for the summer. I'll look forward to updating you on all they've accomplished when I return.