Saturday, May 26, 2007

Restoring Longmire Campground

Today’s volunteer project took place in the historic Longmire Campground, once a center of activity for visitors to Mount Rainier from the 1930s through the 1960s. It was one of those miraculous Washington days that start out cloudy with a chance of rain, but end up sunny and warm. Our goal: prepare the historic Longmire Campground for residence by our summer SCA flood recovery corps, and begin what promises to be a long process to restore the campground to its former glory. Someday the site will be used by school groups, volunteer crews, and picnickers, along with the scattering of park employees who live there now. Before that can happen, the old rock-lined paths, rock-and-mortar water spigots, and picnic tables must be excavated from the ubiquitous layer of moss and duff that has buried everything over the years.

Today’s crew of 5 volunteers and 8 SCA corps members dug into the challenge with enthusiasm, raking trails and campsites, spreading gravel, cutting and moving logs to clear paths, and constructing platforms for the SCA crew’s wall tents. To preserve the historic character of the campground, all of the work was done by hand—no chainsaws or tractors, just crosscut saws and wheelbarrows and carefully positioning rocks and logs to minimize the effects of our presence. The team took this low-impact mandate seriously. About 1:30, a group of ATVers snuck in through the back gate of the park and, surprised to find people working in the campground, cut deep ruts into the moss as they beat a hasty retreat. By 4:00 when the day’s work was done, the ruts had been carefully smoothed over, the winter’s windfall had been raked away, and the site looked better than it had before the interlopers arrived.

The rest of our SCA Recovery Corps arrives on June 1st, just in time to help out with the biggest public volunteer project day of the year so far, National Trails Day on June 2nd. In the meantime, we have a major greenhouse expansion to prepare for, and snow-covered trails to mark at Paradise. On Thursday, we’re working with a group from Evergreen State College to shovel out facilities at Sunrise in preparation for the summer. We have more greenhouse, trail repair, exotic plant removal, wilderness restoration, and roadside assistance projects in the final stages of planning.

But first, we’ll be back in the Longmire Campground again tomorrow, chipping away at a project that will build a personal connection between the volunteers of today and the visitors and park rangers of the 1930s. In a year or two, people will be able to visit and say, "my grandparents camped here fifty years ago." Fifty years from now, their grandchildren will say, "my grandparents helped make it possible again."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Training the Corps

SCA Flood Recovery Corps members Hannah O'Connell and Jill Baum use a crosscut saw to clear a fallen tree from a trail in the historic Longmire Campground

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Field Notes

More trail projects are coming soon! Watch the project listings on SCA's Mount Rainier Recovery website for a long list of trail projects to be completed in June and July. Additional projects will be listed on the Washington Trails Association's website.

Other projects are getting close to being ready to post as well, including:

  • Wayside Exhibit Installation
  • Greenhouse Assistance
  • Exotic Plant Removal
  • Backcountry Cabin Maintenance and Resupply
  • Roadside Flood Debris Cleanup
  • Seed Collection

We've had a very successful week, with public projects at Paradise, Cougar Rock, and Ohanapecosh. We'll be working in the Longmire Campground over Memorial Day weekend--a project suitable for families--and then hitting the trails big-time the following week for National Trails Day on June 2nd.

Lots of things are happening, so keep watching the website for updates!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Interesting Times

There is an old Chinese curse (or so they say) that goes, "may you live in interesting times." Whatever else you may say about this past winter, we are definitely living in interesting times! The great flood of November 2006 may have swept away roads, trails, and even campgrounds in Mount Rainier National Park, but it also swept in a tremendous opportunity for positive change and growth in the park’s volunteer program.

Mount Rainier’s volunteer program has thrived over the years, despite the fact that we have not had a full-time position dedicated to managing the program since 1999—and that was a volunteer. I’ve coordinated the program for the past 4 ½ years as a collateral duty, averaging about 30% of my time, and with the help of a seasonal employee for a few months during the summer. We’ve averaged more than 900 volunteers per year (about 200 individuals and the rest as part of organized work parties) who contribute about 40,000 hours of volunteer time.

It quickly became apparent, after The Flood, that 30% of my time wasn’t going to be enough. I was, if you’ll pardon the pun, flooded with offers of help, far more than I could respond to (and if you were one of the people I didn’t get back to in a timely manner, I humbly apologize).

The Student Conservation Association (SCA) offered to form a partnership with us and to provide extra staff and internship positions in areas like trail repair, revegetation, and volunteer coordination. They also posted a notice on their website asking for people to sign up on a mailing list as potential volunteers. They received more than 700 responses in the first three weeks.

Clearly, we need a new way of doing business this year. The first steps have been to make my position full-time, and to hire a program manager through the SCA to help. Jill Baum will arrive April 4th, and with her assistance I look forward to beginning to catch up on all the e-mails and phone messages that have accumulated. This expanded volunteer program website is another important step, as it will give Jill and me a means to communicate with all of you at the same time. So send me your questions and comments! I’ll address them here and try to keep you as up to date as I can with our progress toward placing volunteers on the ground in the park.

In that vein, here’s what’s next: We have begun compiling a list of volunteer assignments, both long-term needs and short-term projects that people can participate in for an afternoon, or a weekend, or even a full week at a time. I’ll start posting those projects on this website as soon as I can nail down the details, with the earliest project probably starting in late April or early May. Jill will help me to work out the logistics of providing campsites, equipment, transportation, and crew leaders. We may call on our seasoned volunteers from past years to help provide leadership for new members of our volunteer team. It’ll take some time to get off the ground, but by July, hopefully, we’ll be in full swing, with teams of volunteers all over the park working side by side with national park rangers to protect the resources of Mount Rainier National Park and serve its visitors.

Very interesting, indeed. With your help, we’ll turn that curse into a blessing!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Mount Rainier Recovery online event calendar

From Jill Baum, Program Director; Ali Saperstein, Communications Coordinator; and Kevin Bacher, Volunteer Program Manager:

Greetings, Mount Rainier enthusiasts!

Many thanks to those of you who have already visited the Mount Rainier Recovery online event calendar and signed up to provide valuable service to Mount Rainier National Park! Our online service event calendar provides a diverse array of volunteer projects, and we are adding more continually. There are many benefits to volunteering, including free Park admission and overnight camping for the duration of your volunteer project. Visit the calendar today to sign up!

Here are some highlights of what you’ll find:

Family Projects
By popular demand! Spend Memorial Day weekend outdoors making a difference with the whole family. Designed for volunteers age 8 and older, the first Family Project weekend on our calendar will be focused on restoring the historic basecamp at Longmire.

Trail Maintenance Projects
More coming soon! Have you enjoyed hiking in the Park in the past? Many trails throughout the Park are currently unsafe to hike on. Beginning in June, come earn the satisfaction of working with a team to re-open a section of trail to restore access to the Park for other visitors.

Meadow Rover Training
Critical need! The fragile subalpine meadows near Sunrise and Paradise will be as vulnerable as ever this year. Come join us June 23 for a day of learning as part of the Meadow Rover program. A perfect opportunity for people who live close to the Park, this training will enable you to volunteer on a regular basis to help to preserve these beautiful meadows.

We hope that you’ll sign up for one of these or another of the many wonderful opportunities to get involved and lend a hand. We look forward to seeing you at the mountain soon!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The season begins!

And, they're off! May 5th felt like the starting gun for a race that we've been preparing for for six months. Everyone was so happy to be back in the park once again--none more so than the employees, who've all breathed a great sigh of relief that the first part of our recovery effort has been completed.

Quite a few volunteers helped us out on opening day, interpreting the events of November 2006 and welcoming back park visitors. We're grateful for their assistance. We'll be looking for more individuals to fill this role in coming months, so watch our long-term projects page for details.

Much flood-recovery work remains to be done, and now that we've started running, we still have a marathon to complete. Roads and trails are still melting out all over the park. Summer staff members are arriving daily, getting trained and oriented, and helping us plan for the ongoing recovery efforts that will last through this summer and next. Many of those plans include volunteers.

Many volunteer projects have already been identified, filling a healthy piece of the calendar, especially in June. Many more projects are in the planning stages and should be added to the list soon. In some cases, we simply need to work out the details of when supervisors will be available and trained and where to get supplies. In some cases, we have to wait for the snow to melt before we can properly assess what needs to be done. In a few cases, especially projects involving the park's maintenance staff, the supervisors involved have simply been overwhelmed with the job of getting the road to Paradise open by May 5th, and have not had time to plan beyond that yet.

This will change dramatically in coming weeks. Meanwhile, the projects we've already posted have been receiving a very positive response. There are still a few that haven't completely filled, and more are being added almost every day, so keep checking the list if you haven't yet found a way to get involved. Trail maintenance and other backcountry projects, including campsite repairs, will be added as the trails melt out and we can properly schedule projects. Lots of exotic species management projects are in the works, and we hope to add a full schedule of culvert maintenance in coming weeks too. Some of these may not sound very exciting at first glance, but all of them serve critical roles in the protection of park resources. What good are pristine meadows if they fill up with dandelions, and what good are our million-dollar road repairs if the culverts that protect them remain clogged with debris? These are projects that individuals can point to with pride and say, "I helped make that happen!"

We have many long-term projects in the works as well. Just this past week we've advertised for individuals to help with projects from library assistance to groundskeeping. Our Meadow Rover program trains individuals to patrol Paradise and Sunrise, assisting hikers and reminding them of the importance of staying on the trails in those sensitive subalpine areas. We'll be offering training in this program at both Paradise and Sunrise on June 23. We've scheduled projects to locate and pack out the remnants of old telephone lines, water pipes, and plane crashes in the park's wilderness areas. We're exploring the possibility of training teams to maintain backcountry cabins, or to help with the restoration of historic rock walls built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the 1930s.

Also remember that our partners with the Washington Trails Association are sponsoring volunteer projects in the park, and have a list of their own projects that you can sign up for. Olympic National Park has its own set of projects, many of them related to flood recovery, that may be of interest. In the greater Mount Rainier watershed, the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge have volunteer programs too. There's plenty of work to be done, and we look forward to seeing you out there!

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Mount Rainier Reopens!

Mount Rainier staff and partners, including State Senator Marilyn Rasmussen (2nd from left), Congressman Dave Reichert (3rd from left), Congressman Norm Dicks (5th from left), and volunteers Alan Dreyer and "Damien" (3rd from right), open the Nisqually Entrance gate on May 5.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative begins!

From Ali Saperstein, Communications Coordinator, Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative:

Mount Rainier National Park is opening! After an unprecedented 6 months of closure after November’s floods, the road to Paradise will re-open to the public following a brief gate-swinging ceremony at 9:00 am on Saturday, May 5, at the Nisqually Entrance.
While you’re enjoying the Park and witnessing the flood damage first-hand, you can also do your part to contribute to the restoration effort. We will be hosting two drop-in work projects to kick off the volunteer season. Come join us as we open the Trail of the Shadows by repairing eroded areas and brushing the corridor. Or, stop by historic Longmire Campground just to check it out or lend a hand with restoration and base camp construction. These projects will be ongoing all day, and everyone is welcome to drop in and help for as long as you like. We hope to see you there!
Eager to volunteer, but can’t make it to the opening? As of Saturday, May 5, a calendar of our first phase of summer volunteer work projects and online registration will be available on our projects page and on SCA’s Mount Rainier Recovery website. Visit the website this weekend to check out opportunities to clear trails, clean up wilderness areas, get campsites ready for visitors, and more.

We have received a tremendous response from so many volunteers already (upwards of 2,000!), and we hope to accommodate as many of you as we can. Planning a safe and successful volunteer program on this scale cannot be rushed, as it requires attention to countless details regarding logistics, tools and supplies, budgets, staffing, and more. With ongoing assessment, we will continue to develop our long-term work plan and add new projects to the calendar. If you are unable to attend a project during our first phase, be sure to check back regularly for new work projects as they are added to the calendar.
Thank you again for your commitment and concern for Mount Rainier National Park. We are excited to see you at the mountain soon!