Friday, August 31, 2007


It's been an emotional week for this humble volunteer program manager. While there's still a good month of decent weather left for trail building and other projects, school is starting and many of our summer volunteers are heading for home. We say good bye this week to many of our interpretive volunteers, for instance. James "Longmire" Anderson spent the summer working with our interpretive staff as a Student Conservation Association Intern. Rachel Landman rounds out her term as an intern through the Geologic Society of America. Ruth Graves completes a difficult summer that began with personal tragedy and ends in a triumph of perseverance and dedication.

This morning, five members of our Mount Rainier Recovery Corps left for the airport, after a hard working summer helping to rebuild trails and serve as crew leaders for public volunteers. I've worked closely with these guys, and they've earned both my friendship and respect. When we came up with the idea for the Recovery Corps last winter in partnership with the Student Conservation Association, none of us knew what shape it would take, nor how productive it would turn out to be, nor how successfully these kids would reach out to the park's neighbors and welcome them as partners in the park's reconstruction. It's like handing chisels to fourteen people and setting them to work on a block of marble, recruiting five hundred helpers to assist them, and coming back four months later to see that they've all crafted Michelangelo's "David." It's like watching your son grow up to do things you never dreamed he was capable of. Nine members of the Corps remain, with projects already scheduled for hundreds more people to help with, and plenty of room for more.

I also said farewell today to ten members of the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association (J-VIPA), a group that has been bringing students from Waseda University in Tokyo to help with volunteer projects since 1994. I've worked with this remarkable group before, but this year was special, because for the first time my family and I hosted one of the students in our home, a young woman named Naoko Inoue. She arrived last Sunday and left today, yet in that short time, she became part of our family, fascinating my two sons with stories about Japan, language lessons, and demonstrations of traditional clothing. On Wednesday we all went to watch the Mariners play at Safeco Field. Oh, and she and the other students in her Study Tour also did a lot of work in the park, pulling hundreds of weeds in the greenhouse, building two dozen picnic tables, and setting up and dedicating a "bio toilet" in the Cougar Rock Campground that had been donated by a Japanese environmental non-profit group.

Many extraordinary people pass through our volunteer program every year, from throughout the Puget Sound, across the country, and around the world. We build friendships, share experiences, and get some work done. Saying good bye is always hard. And yet, the friendships continue, and over the years those of us who stick around accumulate quite a widespread group of friends, and the planet keeps getting a little smaller.

Many more volunteers remain, and return week after week, month after month, or year after year. I have come to know people through the volunteer program who have become close personal friends, people I love and trust and respect. They are the strong beating heart of our volunteer program. I'm grateful that they live close by, and aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Meanwhile, to my friends who are departing this week: Arigato.

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