Friday, May 30, 2008

The Corps, training, and upcoming projects

I've been out of commission for much of the past week with a persistent fever. Fortunately, it passed in time for our volunteer program training on Thursday! Our new SCA Conservation Corps was in attendance all day, and in the afternoon, we were joined by about a dozen park supervisors and volunteers, who shared their personal stories of working in the park and their vision for where our volunteer opportunities will go next. We're excited to have Corps members working within our interpretation, trails, and natural resource programs this year; once they're fully trained, their mission will be to develop projects that we've had in the planning stages for years. These include viewpoint, trailhead, and shuttle bus interpretation, and biological surveys. Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources Roger Andrascik described a fascinating project under development to track frogs in our subalpine ponds. There are lots of cool projects coming up.

For the moment, the number of projects on our calendar remains small. But we'll be posting the first major addition over the weekend or on Monday: a Father/Son/Daughter project for Father's Day weekend, on Saturday the 15th of June. It will likely involve winter storm cleanup, campground opening, and possibly some exotic plant control, and will be appropriate for families. Watch our Eventbrite calendar at the top of this page for details.

Snow updates

Lots of updates to pass on to you related to snow melt. These first ones are from Stephen Lofgren:

Silver Falls
The west side of the loop is all melted out. The trail is in good shape. The east side of the loop still has some 200-300 yard sections of snow about 3/4 of the way to the bridge. The trail is relatively easy to follow in these areas. The Silver Falls bridge is in and usable. The access to Silver Falls from Laughingwater is also snow-free all the way to the Silver Falls bridge.

Grove of the Patriarchs
Four honey bucket toilets are now in place at the Grove of the Patriarchs trailhead. The trail out to the Grove of the Patriarchs (and around the loop) is still 95% under 18"-40" of snow. The trail travels along a steep hillside, so many visitors normally accustomed to the easy walk in will be surprised how steep and slippery it is. I think it will be at least 10-14 days before there is much of a change (depending on the weather).

Laughingwater Creek
The Laughingwater Trail is snowfree for the first 1.25 miles just short of the pond. Near the pond the trail is mostly covered with snow. The trail is exposed with patchy snow for another 3/4 mile before it goes into the canyon, from there it is more or less inundated. Three Lakes cabin is completely covered with snow, roof and all. There is a place to crawl down to the door, and you can get in easily. I skied up from where there was enough snow to use skis at about 3200', however, I think it would've been easier to just boot it up. Snow conditions were pretty firm, especially low, underneath the canopy.

Longmire Area
Allan Dreyer checked out the trails in the Longmire area yesterday and today, and reported that the trail from Longmire to Cougar Rock Campground is about 2/3 snow-covered. There are some small trees down across the trail, but nothing serious. The Rampart Ridge Trail is snow covered mostly on the top of the ridge, though there are also some serious (and very slippery) patches of snow along the way, too.

Stevens Canyon
From Stephen Lofgren again: The avalanche that happened this winter near the Stevens Creek bridge on the Stevens Canyon Road is impressive to say the least. I had a good opportunity to explore the terrain in the start zone and along the perimeter of the slide path. I've run some of the numbers and here are some initial estimates.

Approximate Date: 12/3-4/07
Length: 3200 ft.
Vertical: 1500 ft.
Approximate Total Area: 80 Acres
Weight of Snow: 64,000 kg
Cubic Volume of Snow: 160,000 m3
Acres of Forest Destroyed: 15 acres sparse forest

The Steven’s Creek avalanche most likely occurred on the 3rd or 4th of December, 2007 after a rain event that drenched the shallow snowpack. On the 1st of December, 2007, there were 33 inches of snow recorded at Paradise. This warm weather event produced about 4 inches of rain. Rapid weight, water, and warmth added to a snowpack created very unstable conditions. Although no one observed this avalanche, it is likely that the avalanche took most of the available snow in the start zone all the way down to the ground. This is called a climax avalanche.
Roughly 15 acres of sparse forest were completely flattened. Limbs on trees left standing show that the air blast and/or the snow reached 20-30 feet up. Dozens of trees were pulled right out of the ground by their root wads.

During this warm weather event in December, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center elevated the avalanche danger rating to extreme. A number of avalanche fatalities occurred in Washington during this period.

Road Openings
From Chief Ranger Chuck Young: Both the road to White River Campground (from the Mather Wye) and Stevens Canyon all the way through to Stevens Canyon entrance will open to the public at 8:00 am on Friday May 30. The White River Campground remains closed to camping. The road beyond the White River Campground road to Sunrise remains closed due to snow. The picture to the right is at Chinook Pass recently.

Snowmelt Statistics
From Bret Christoe, our Ecological Data Manager, this summary of the progress of the Paradise snow melt in several notable years including this one:

1955: May 30 depth, 194 inches; meltout, August 4.
1956: May 30 depth, 192 inches; meltout, July 28.
1964: May 30 depth, 183 inches; meltout, July 30.
1971: May 30 depth, 202 inches; meltout, August 6.
1972: May 30 depth, 216 inches; meltout, August 7.
1974: May 30 depth, 249 inches; meltout, August 26!
1975: May 30 depth, 178 inches; meltout, July 31.
1999: May 30 depth, 204 inches; meltout, August 18
2008: May 30 depth, 172 inches; meltout, ???

Friday, May 23, 2008

Spring training is underway

Our Conser- vation Corps is here and learning the ropes of working at Mount Rainier. They're still camping out at the Ashford Lions Hall, joined now by several native plant crews, yesterday spent much of their day pulling up invasive Scotch Broom from around the edge of the meadow behind the Hall, as part of the agreement for camping there. If you've ever done this on your own property, you know--it's hard work! That's one tenacious plant!

Meanwhile, we're coming up on Memorial Day weekend, with lots of closures still in effect all over the park. Some highlights:
  • Road crews have begun work in the Paradise picnic area, clearing snow for more parking. However, the Paradise Valley Road remains closed. Parking at Paradise will be extremely limited on busy weekends and holidays. Expect congestion and parking delays.
  • Stevens Canyon Road will be open to public traffic from the Paradise Road intersection to Snow Lake Trailhead by 12:00 noon on Friday, May 23, 2008. Rockslides and snowslides are continuing to occur in the canyon beyond this point.
  • Hwy 123/410 North/South through the park will be open to public traffic at 12:00 noon beginning Friday May 23, 2008. Hwy. 410 over Chinook Pass remains closed due to snow, and is anticipated to remain so until at least June 5.
  • Ohanapecosh Campground opens at 12:00 noon beginning Friday May 23, 2008. Limited sites will be available due to snow. The Grove of the Patriarchs will be accessible, but the water will not yet be turned on in the restrooms.
  • Road crews are shifting equipment to White River Road to begin clearing White River Campground and the road to Sunrise. WSDOT has already made some progress there, opening the road partway, but several miles of snow removal remain.
Another place to find updates on road conditions is the new Access and Roads Blog, maintained by the same helpful folks that keep the Mount Rainier Climbing Blog up to date. You can also find details about the conditions that are making this year's opening difficult on the National Parks Traveler website, which has articles about both Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks.
In other news, here's an update on our draft interpretation training schedule; be sure and contact me or register through the Eventbrite calendar at the top of this page if you plan to attend any of the training days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Volunteer's paintings earn $650 for Mount Rainier

You may recall from last week that volunteer Allan Dreyer had donated four of his beautiful paintings of Mount Rainier landscapes to sell at the Washington's National Park Fund auction at the Paradise Inn. I'm pleased to announce that those paintings earned a total of $650 for the National Park! The auction as a whole raised $17,130 for the park. Our thanks to all who contributed!

In other news:

Our Conservation Corps has arrived! Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been great for getting a group photo yet, but I'll try to post one soon. These are the ten individuals who will be coordinating and leading volunteer projects all summer. They seem like great people (of course). For now, they're camping at the Mount Rainier Lion's Club in Ashford, while their tent sites at the Longmire Campground melt out enough for them to move in! Thank you to the Ashford Lions for their generous partnership!

The snow is gone in front of my office, at last! However, that doesn't mean we aren't having challenges with snow still at higher elevations. Some highlights from this week's management team meeting: Washington State DOT helped us get a lane open to the Owyhee Trailhead on the White River Road--thanks, guys!--before returning to their work on Chinook Pass. Our own plows made it to Box Canyon last weekend, but were still doing bulldozer work, which is unsual for that area. We're working on multiple fronts simultaneously: Stevens Canyon, White River Road, and the Paradise Valley Road, all of which have their own challenges and reasons to be considered a priority.

And if you're interested, the presentations by all of the various winners of the Cooperative Conservation Awards, including ours, are now posted online here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

An incredible evening on the mountain

From John Walsh, Meadow Rover at Paradise:

Weather incredible, so very busy. Though contact numbers do not reflect the numbers of people around, they fell within the definition of contacts. Had numerous other casual conversations with folks. On the Nisqually trail reset some poles and ropes; Myrtle trail attempted to “redefine” common trail though the snow ... trail sort of lost its “definition” so tried to reestablish “obvious” route. Other than a spectacular day, nothing of note to report. The highlight of the trip was a night hike we took on Friday. No other way to describe it other than awesome and enchanting. We headed out after dark (up into the Myrtle Falls area) under an almost full moon and clear skies as a backdrop for stars. The mountain simply glowed in the night light ... nothing to say other than incredible, just incredible ... what a wonderful gift. As we were returning we were accompanied by a fox! The fellow just wandered along with us, about 20 yards away, apparently unconcerned with our presence. After a while he just sort of meandered off ... pretty cool to see. Anyway as you might guess it was a wonderful evening and day on the mountain.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Congressional Commendation

I just got a copy of this from Sean Smith at the National Parks Conservation Association. Apparently, Congressman Dave Reichert read a commendation of our volunteer program into the Congressional Record! Here's the complete text:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mr. REICHERT. Madam Speaker, I want to congratulate Mount Rainier National Park, the Student Conservation Association, SCA, the Washington’s Trails Association, WTA, the National Parks Conservation Association, NPCA, Washington’s National Park Fund, and The Mountaineers for being awarded the 2008 Cooperative Conservation Award, CCA, from the Department of the Interior. The CCA is the Department of Interior’s highest award presented to private citizens and organizational partners who support the agency’s mission and demonstrate significant contributions to its programs.

The award was given to the coalition for their outstanding efforts in rebuilding damaged trails, campgrounds and other facilities at Mount Rainier following the disastrous floods and windstorms during the winter of 2006. The coalition named their efforts the Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative and enlisted the help of more than 700 people from all over the country to rebuild and solidify some of the most beautiful trails, campgrounds and habitats in the country. The work they did was truly remarkable. Their dedication is appreciated by residents of the Pacific Northwest and the residents of the Eighth District, the district I represent.

The work by the coalition, along with countless volunteers, will be enjoyed for years to come by the thousands of visitors to Mount Rainier. With all the coalition has accomplished, their efforts continue by expanding their reach outside Mount Rainier to other areas in Washington State affected by extreme weather utilizing the success of their Mount Rainier Model. Again, congratulations the SCA, the WTA, the NPCA, Washington’s National Park Fund and The Mountaineers for their dedication to the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest and urge them to continue in their efforts.

Photos from the newly renovated Paradise Inn

I was up at Paradise on Friday, a magnificent day in every way, to take pictures of the grand reopening of the Paradise Inn. We had a lot of visitors, including Congressmen Dave Reichert and Norm Dicks, and led tours of the renovation. A few of us also got a sneak preview of the beautiful new visitor center. If you're interested, I've posted 141 photos of the event on my personal website:

The News Tribune, by the way, has been covering this story in detail as well, and as always, they have some great photos and narrative. Start with Paradise lost? For two reasons, but no longer; then spin off to Paradise Inn's reopening revives many memories; then go back and read last week's article about the preparations to reopen, Paradise regained: Mount Rainier Inn to reopen after challenging renovation.

Friday, May 16, 2008

New volunteer opportunities

Return visitors to this blog will notice the new calendar at the top of our page. We're trying out a new way of advertising and registering people for volunteer projects, so check it out and tell us what you think! In some cases, you'll simply see events listed that require no response on your part other than showing up; in other cases, we ask for an RSVP. In some cases, the text of the project will direct you to RSVP directly with the project leader, or to register on a partner website (such as that of the Washington Trails Association). And in some cases--soon, in most cases--you'll be able to sign up for a specific project on a specific date right here on your computer.

There will be many such opportunities posted soon. For now, let me direct your attention to two new ones:

Greenhouse planting: We're looking for help replanting at the greenhouse in preparation for restoration work at Paradise later this summer. This will happen from June 2 through July 15, and we'd like a commitment of at least three days if you'd like to help.

Education Intern: Our education program is looking to hire a full-time intern for a full year beginning July 1st, through the Student Conservation Association.

She'll try again to reach the summit

From the Highline Times, in Des Moines Washington:

"Go tell it on the mountain," those old-time-religion gospel lyrics sermonize, and Lyn Robinson is practically on her way. Only she's not about saving souls with preaching - she's about saving lives by climbing Mount Rainier....

She will climb the volcanic mountain a second time celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the American Lung Association of Washington's annual event. Volunteers join in this summit hike to raise funds for researching cures for lung diseases and providing safe summer camping for asthmatic children.
Read the whole inspirational story online!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Watching the snow melt

I've been playing around with the weather data, and thought you might like to see how our snow depth at Longmire compares to average--and record--snow depth. These are measurements taken at our weather station, going back to 1931, as recorded by the Western Regional Climate Center. (Note: there are two entries for Longmire: one recording data from 1931-1978, the other from 1978 to 2007.) The data show two previous springs where the snow has lingered this long at Longmire: 1955 and 1971. (1956 seems to have been a close third.) In 1971, the snow depth finally reached zero at the Longmire weather station on May 26.

Also worth noting: the following winter, the weather station at Paradise set a world record for the most snowfall recorded in a single snow year.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Volunteer Allan Dreyer donates paintings for park fundraiser

If you've seen this fellow out on the trail, meadow roving with his hearing dog Damien, you'd never know that he also has another talent: painting!

Over the years, Allan Dreyer has painted dozens of pictures of Mount Rainier, from all angles and in all seasons. He has donated several of his paintings to Mount Rainier National Park already, to hang in the offices of rangers. We enjoy them when the weather is as cloudy and rainy as it is today; right now, I'm looking at a magnificent picture of Myrtle Falls surrounded by monkeyflowers, lupines, and paintbrush, with the Mountain rising majestically behind against a backdrop of blue with a few whispy clouds around it.

For the grand reopening of the Paradise Inn, Allan has donated four of his paintings to Washington's National Park Fund, which will auction them off to special guests at a fundraiser on the night of May 15th. Here's an exclusive first look at the paintings that will be auctioned. Of course, my photographs don't come close to capturing the artistry of the real things!

Rainier and Snow Lake from Tatoosh -
When I became deaf 17 years ago, my climbing days ended. Last fall when I hiked into Snow Lake in the southeastern area of the park, I looked up at the ridges of the Tatoosh and wondered what the lake would look like from on top. This painting is how I believe Snow Lake and Rainier would appear from near Unicorn Peak.

Tahoma - Emmons Route
Once while hiking around Naches Peak, I took a number of pictures of Mt. Rainier with a 300 mm lens with the idea of painting this picture. The painting shows Emmons glacier which was the route I climbed to the summit in 1986.

Mt. Rainier from Indian Henry's
One August day a few years ago, I stayed at the patrol cabin. As the sun started to set, I took some photos of Mt. Rainier and used them as a basis for this painting.

Nighttime Palette Knife Painting -
Many years ago, I was hiking on a snowy winter night to my igloo, when the clouds opened and allowed a full moon to illuminate the mountain. It was so quiet; the only thing I heard was the crunch of my snowshoes on the snow.

Catching up: News and links

I've been busy getting caught up from my trip to Washington D.C., so I have quite a bit to share with you that has come in to my "in" box over the past week:

Meadow Rovers Breakfast
Forty-two people showed up for the Meadow Rovers Breakfast at the Tacoma Mountaineers Club, including several people who had never volunteered before and were drawn to the brunch by an article in The News Tribune. We shared good food, brought everyone up to date on the goings-on of the volunteer program and the status of snow at the park, showed off our new award, and answered a lot of questions. Everyone is looking forward to the summer season! And speaking of looking forward, we already have the clubhouse reserved for next year's breakfast: Saturday, May 9, 2009. Mark your calendars!

Award Updates
The National Park Service issued a very nice press release about the national award we received last week. It was also featured on the NPS news digest. Another perspective can be found in the Pennsylvania Daily American, which has a nice article about the group award winners, the Flight 93 Ambassadors. Meanwhile, volunteer Greg Carstens writes, "Thank you for accepting the George B. Hartzog Jr. award for me and many of my fellow volunteers. It means a lot to me that I spent some time in a very critical year for Mount Rainier National Park. My only regret is that I didn't get to spend more time in 2007 helping out but I think ... I can go out and break my own record for hours spent in the Paradise Meadows this coming summer. I think 2008 will be an exciting year with not only the reopening of Paradise Inn but also the opening of the all-new visitor center."

By the way, remember my reference a while back to a Valor Award someone was rumored to be winning? It's actually a Citizen's Award for Bravery, it was presented to Phill Michael, and you can read all about it on Mike Gauthier's climbing blog. It was presented yesterday in Washington D.C. (another trip east for Mount Rainier personnel!) for the efforts of an individual who saved the life of a couple of people on the Muir Snowfield. That's some impressive spontaneous volunteer service.

Coming Up
As the snow melts, the number of ways you can get involved at Mount Rainier are beginning to grow exponentially! Here are a few new resources:

Trail Talk: With the Washington Trails Association: Find out all about WTA's schedule of activities this spring, including National Trails Day on June 7th.

Photography Classes: Brooke Childrey says "Last chance to sign up for the Photo class on May 16th. Class will be from 9 am to noon at the education center. This is the first class and will focus on photography basics. 2nd class is a field class out in the park sometime this summer. There will be a repeat of the first class on June 27th for those who can't make the May 16th class. It will also be followed by a field class out in the park sometime this summer (you and the instructors set a date and time for the field class)."

Other things to watch for: Our spring Conservation Corps will be arriving on Monday. These are the guys who will be coordinating and leading volunteer projects throughout the summer, so I'll introduce them to you here next week. Some of the projects we're already working on include greenhouse planting, snow removal, campground opening, trail marking, trail repair, National Trails Day on June 7, interpretive wayside installation, guided walks, viewpoint interpretation, and meadow roving. Watch our calendar for project postings by the end of the month.

Finally, don't forget the upcoming Paradise Inn reopening on Friday. Check out the park's press release, and plan to join us for tours of the newly renovated inn and the visitor center under construction at 1:00 and 4:00, as well as a ribbon-cutting and grand reopening ceremony at 3:00. Parking will be limited, so carpooling is recommended!

New links
For those of us who struggle to identify wildflowers at Mount Rainier, there's now a website to help out, created by Tracy Donovan. Now all you need is satellite internet access from the trailside at Paradise! Meanwhile, volunteer Kathy Sharman sends a link to her personal blog, which has a definite Mount Rainier slant to it! She's also participating in a breast cancer walk. You can find out how to support her effort on her blog. Finally, NPS Director Mary Bomar has just released a thorough and colorful report called "A Salute to Service," which celebrates the efforts of NPS employees, volunteers, and citizens in support of our national treasures. Our flood recovery efforts here at Rainier are featured at one point in the report!

Spring at Mount Rainier
Prospective volunteer Kyle Miller shares pictures from a hike to Mowich Lake in mid-March. I've created a separate blog entry for him dated 5/2, which is when he sent the photos to me. Send me your own pictures and stories and I'll post them here!

Meanwhile, our wildlife biologist, Jim Schaberl, sent out this e-mail a few days ago:

Heads-up on potential bear activities this spring:
There are a number of reports this season of bear tracks and observations in snow (for several weeks now). Bears are exceptionally hungry this time of year and the snowpack is still overwhelming. Natural foods are scarce and will be for a while. Please take extra precautions in the next month or two with food (and garbage) storage and opening up areas to visitor camping and picnicking. All food and garbage products need to be secured in bear resistant (bear-"proof") areas and receptacles.

The three biggest new items up here on the mountain, of course, are snow, snow, and more snow! While it is finally melting, and in fact the National Weather Service has issued a Special Weather Alert for unseasonably hot weather this weekend, there's still a long way to go in many places. Plus, the hot weather will contribute to high avalanche danger leading into the weekend. Be careful out there!

Because of the lingering snow, many of our opening dates have been pushed back. As of this writing, Cougar Rock Campground will not open until June 6th rather than Memorial Day weekend. (The snow plow guys said they were hampered by snow "over the box" of their plows last week.) Ohanapecosh Campground will open as scheduled, but the visitor center will not open until June 13th because of winter snow damage to the housing units over there. (We can't even commute from Longmire because Stevens Canyon is a long way from reopening and Skate Creek Road remains closed by two major landslides.) Sunrise opening is delayed as well; our staff is working overtime to get it open by July 3rd--though it will probably be at least another week beyond that date before the utilities get de-winterized. (We'll probably have some volunteer projects related to shoveling out facilities at Sunrise.)

The snow in the Longmire Campground is creating problems for our Conservation Corps, as well, who will not be able to set up their platform tents until they have bare ground. They'll spend their first week or two camped out at the Lion's Hall in Ashford, which has generously provided us with space and the use of their kitchen for a very inexpensive rate.

The Washington Trails Association has helpfully compiled a list of places that you can go to enjoy this weekend's warm weather, in spite of the heavy snowpack. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mount Rainier's Volunteer Program receives award for Outstanding Volunteer Service

Dr. Jennifer Dow (upper left) and the Flight 93 Volunteer Ambassadors (in light blue shirts) pose with Director Bomar (center), Mount Rainier volunteers, and others at the Department of the Interior.

It's now official -- Mount Rainier National Park's volunteer program today received the George B. Hartzog Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service! An individual award was also presented to Dr. Jennifer Dow, of Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Katmai National Parks, and a group award was presented to the Flight 93 Volunteer Ambassadors, from Flight 93 National Memorial.

This has been a quick but exciting trip to Washington D.C. Superintendent Dave Uberuaga and I flew out yesterday with volunteer Eva Meassick. Volunteer George Coulbourn joined us this morning; serendipitously, he was already in the D.C. area visiting family during this event, so he just hopped on the Metro and joined us!

I'm so pleased that Eva and George were able to be here to represent our volunteers. They are two of our most dedicated long-term volunteers (admittedly, among many in that category), with more than 30 years and 15,000 hours of service between them. They represented our program well, and did a fine job of conveying the pride we have in our national park and those who serve it.

Today began with a tour (in off-and-on rain) of some of the sites on the National Mall, with ranger John Hanna explaining the finer details of the World War II, Vietnam War, Korean War, and FDR Memorials. We were joined by representatives from the Flight 93 Volunteer Ambassadors. I had conversations with several of these remarkable volunteers, whose dedication to interpreting one of the central stories from September 11, 2001 is truly inspiring. These are people who live close to the crash site, who self-organized to respond to the hundreds of people who started visiting after 9/11. It's now a unit of the National Park Service, working on purchasing land, and making plans for a visitor center and memorial, but more than 40 people still put in a few days a week each to meet individuals and school groups in all kinds of weather to tell the story and answer questions.

We returned to the hotel at noon for a luncheon attended by about 40 people, including several representatives from the leadership of the National Park Service: Joy Pietschmann, director of the NPS volunteer program; Chris Jarvi, Associate Director for Partnerships and Visitor Experience; Doug Blankinship, from Take Pride in America; Mark Kornmann, from the National Park Foundation; Dave Barna, communications director for the Park Service; and others. They spoke in turn about the importance of volunteerism and the quality of this year's award recipients. Sharing our table was Dr. Jennifer Dow, the individual award winner and an emergency room doctor at Alaska Regional Hospital, who also serves in a volunteer capacity as medical director for three major national parks in southern Alaska. She is a dedicated, talented, and eye-crossingly busy person, who flew out from Alaska just long enough to receive her award before hopping on a plane again for the 12-hour set of return flights.

When it was our turn, we went up front and received our award, a beautiful crystal medallion in a wooden display case, and a check for $1,000 for our volunteer program from the National Park Foundation. I said a few words of thanks--in the picture here, I'm reassuring the crowd that no, even though I'd really like to, I'm not going to read the names of all 1,724 people who helped earn this award for us in 2007! George said a few eloquent words as well, repeating the sentiment I've heard from him many times, that volunteering is a "positive feedback loop" that returns more benefit to the volunteer than the volunteer invests into it. (We were talking about this before the luncheon, and decided that every hour volunteering is an hour that gets taken off of your age, making George 2 1/2 years younger than he would be if he hadn't spent 5000 hours volunteering. Kind of like "dog years in reverse.") Dave Uberuaga spoke briefly too, expressing his gratitude on behalf of all of us in the National Park Service to our many volunteers for their hard work and steadfast support, and emphasizing the added value that their efforts bring to Mount Rainier National Park.

A Volunteer Accessibility Achievement Award was also presented to the Friends of Great Falls Tavern in the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park for designing mule-drawn canal boats accessible to those with mobility and hearing impairments. After the awards, we posed for lots of pictures, then hopped in a van to drive over to the Department of the Interior, where we spent a few minutes chatting with the Director of the National Park Service, Mary Bomar, and posed for more pictures. We returned to the hotel to say our farewells to each other and swap business cards with new friends. George headed back to his aunt's home in Falls Church, while Dave, Eva, and I walked down to Old Ebbitt's Grill (in what was by this time a steady drizzle) for dinner. We'll be up bright and early (at least early) tomorrow morning to return to Washington state.

For now, our--your--Hartzog Award will be in my office at Longmire, so stop by any time to take a look at it. I'll be attending the Meadow Rovers brunch in Tacoma on Saturday and will bring it along to that event, and to any other events in the near future where volunteers may be present as well. I'm very proud of you all for helping to make ours the best volunteer program in the National Park Service this year, and you have all been close to our thoughts throughout today's festivities, as we have humbly represented your outstanding contributions.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

More training, and other thoughts

I just took a walk over to our Emergency Operations Center to get a signature, and it's such a Washington-beautiful day outside--cool, cloudy, with the mist moving in and out of the trees on the top of Eagle Peak. There were two ravens down by the river who were screaming at each other, and I had one of those moments where I remember how great it is to be working in a National Park. I'm incredibly busy in the office at the moment, but it was a reminder of how important it is to get out of the office once in a while and enjoy the park that I'm working so hard to help protect. It reminded me again of this great (and slightly ribald) quote by Edward Abbey, one of my favorites.

Meanwhile, to news:

Here's the official Press Release announcing that our volunteer program has won the George B. Hartzog Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. Congratulations again to all of you! I'll post pictures from the award ceremony hopefully Thursday evening.

A correction from John Chao: "FYI - I noticed the title of our photo workshop is being represented as "Digital Photography", whereas our actual title is "Improving Your Photography" - there will only be a very short portion dedicated to digital photography. We are NOT delving into digital photography processing." Knowing John's skills as a photographer, though, that will be outstanding enough! See the photo at right for another example of his great work...

An additional upcoming training: Search and Rescue. The ranger division is hosting an ALL PARK SAR Orientation on May 22nd in the Emergency Operations Center. Mike Gauthier writes, "The primary purpose is to orient anyone remotely interested in SAR operations on how SAR Management works at Mount Rainier, and what you can do to be involved and/or a member of the SAR team and program." If your volunteer duties involve potential involvement in search and rescue operations, contact me or Gator for further information.

Another training available to park staff: The park's EMT refresher will be held June 10-12 at the Community Building at Longmire. I'm sure we could squeeze in a few volunteers if you have need for such a refresher. If you do, let me know ASAP (by May 22nd at latest). Ranger Chris Trotter says "I don't want to have to set a limit on the class, so if I have a good idea on the numbers attending early I can better plan for gear/instructors/handouts/doughnuts etc."

And finally, another update on the effects of our stormy winter: Skate Creek Road, south of the park, will not open until at least June...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

May 2nd Update

I sent out this update to our mailing list last evening, but several people responded that their e-mails had not included the embedded links. Here is the complete update, with all of the links included:

Hello friends,

Now that it's May, the snow has begun melting all over Mount Rainier National Park, and our staff has moved into high gear planning for another busy summer. We still have a lot of flood recovery work to complete, as well as all the regular jobs that volunteers are so important to help with. While many of our plans are still tentative, now is the time to start thinking about how volunteering will fit into your calendar this year! Here is a summary of some of the resources on our website to help you plan.

Congratulations are in order! Mount Rainier's volunteer program has recieved two major awards this spring: first, the Department of the Interior's Cooperative Conservation Award , presented on April 21 for our partnerships with the Student Conservation Association, Washington Trails Association, National Parks Conservation Association, Washington's National Park Fund, and The Mountaineers; and second, the George B. Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service , the highest honor given for volunteer service by the National Park Service, which will be presented on May 8! These awards are a testament to your incredible support of Mount Rainier, both in the past year while we've recovered from the floods of 2006, and over the decades leading up to the present. Thank you and congratulations!

How to Get Involved:
Here's a quick summary of your options, from short-term projects to long-term assignments. Some highlights:
- Meadow Rovers are needed for the summer months. Training for new volunteers will be June 28.
- The Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative will start up again in mid-June, when some of the snow melts. Watch our calendar for projects you can sign up for!
- The Washington Trails Association already has low elevation projects on their calendar that you can sign up for.
- A Volunteer Program Assistant is needed to help keep up with paperwork, correspondence, and projects.
- Watch for more! and keep in mind, too, that we're not the only ones who need help.

Volunteers are welcome to join us for staff training! Click here for a collection of tentative training schedules.

Upcoming Events:
- May 10: Spring Meadow Rover gathering
- May 16: Paradise Inn reopening (You can also find a link to a sneak peek of the new visitor center on our blog!)
- May 16: Digital Photography Workshop
- May 28-29: Volunteer Program Management Training
- June 7: National Trails Day: Watch for details to come!
- June 27: Digital Photography Workshop
- June 28: Meadow Rover Training
- September 27: National Public Lands Day
- Check out our complete calendar for more events!

Volunteer Surveys:
157 of you responded to our volunteer survey this winter, which has yielded a wealth of information. We're still sorting through it, but here's a link to some of the preliminary conclusions. [UPDATED: Here's the link.] Watch our blog for more information as we sift through it.

Don't forget our photo page on Picasa! Here you can find lots of pictures of volunteers in action. We'd love to see your pictures, too. Send us your best shots, or point us to your Picasa or Flickr page, and we'll link to it from our blog.

If you know of other news that ought to be shared with our volunteers, send me a heads-up... or, join our discussion group. Keep up with the latest on our blog , and watch for our first newsletter of the season in a few weeks!

Kevin Bacher
Volunteer Program Manager
360-569-2211 ext. 3385

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mowich Lake in March

Here is a pic of my work diging out the Mowich lake ranger station in mid March. It was a 10 mile hike in on 165.

Kyle Miller

Tentative training schedules

One of the greatest things about being a volunteer is having access to all of the cool training provided by national park rangers as they prepare their staff at the beginning of the summer season. Here are three examples of training you can get involved with if you're interested. Each of these is directed primarily at an internal audience, but volunteers are welcome to sit in on all or part of them as well. Later in the summer, we will be offering additional training opportunities specifically targeted to volunteers, such as Wilderness First Aid.

For now, if you're interested in joining us for any of these initial training days, send me note to let me know you'll be here and I'll make sure there's an extra chair (and cookies) for you! Keep in mind that all of these training agendas are still tentative and will probably change in subtle or major ways as the dates get closer. If we know you're coming, we'll keep you informed.

First up: Conservation Corps Training, beginning when our Corps members arrive on May 19 and continuing into June. Included: introduction to park programs and backcountry operations; risk management; Leave No Trace; work skills; and search and rescue procedures.

Next: NPS Volunteer Management, May 28-29. This is a thorough and specific overview of how we recruit and manage volunteers in the National Park Service, including program planning, partnerships, needs assessment, recruitment and hiring, supervision, recognition, a panel discussion, and a look ahead at the future of volunteerism in the national parks.

Also beginning at the end of May: Interpretive Training, May 27-June 6. This training will provide an overview of basic park operations and natural history, but will also focus intensively on how to create high-quality interpretive presentations.

Also on the horizon (most of these are still in the idea stage, but they'll give you a sense for what's coming):
- National Trails Day, June 7
- A father/son project, possibly in mid-June
- Meadow Rover training, tentatively June 28
- US Forest Service Work Skills, including crosscut saw certification, July 7-11
- Wilderness First Aid for volunteers, possibly mid-July
- National Public Lands Day, September 27

For your interest, here's a snippet of what our tentative calendar looks like for organized groups. These tend to be the "large rocks" in the bucket of our calendar, around which we schedule individual projects open to the public at large. As you'll see, we already have a lot of interest from a lot of different groups, many of whom are returning after having great experiences here last year:

- Evergreen State College, late May
- BSA Buckley Troop 577, National Trails Day June 7
- Washington State Geocaching Association, National Trails Day June 7
- American Alpine Club, National Trails Day June 7
- USFS Discovery Teams, June 23-August 1
- NW Environmental Education Council, June 25, July 15, or August 1
- Youth Conservation Corps, multiple dates in July and August
- Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, July 11
- University of Idaho, August 2-5
- Starbucks, August 9
- Catholic Youth Organization, August 15-17
- National Parks Conservation Association, National Public Lands Day September 27
- REI Adventures, REI Issaquah, and REI Seattle, weekends TBD
- Americorps Tacoma, dates TBD
- HSBC Bank, weekday TBD

We don't have any individual projects on our calendar yet, unfortunately, but hope to start posting them very soon. You can count on National Trails Day for sure, June 7. Frankly, everything else is more up in the air than usual this year due to snow depth. We still have almost four feet on the ground here at Longmire, at a time of year when the ground is usually bare. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mount Rainier volunteers earn National Park Service’s top honor

Here's a nice article in The News Tribune today about our George B. Hartzog Jr. Award:

Mount Rainier volunteers earn National Park Service’s top honor

And we haven't even got our press release out yet! That's the magic of blogging!

Meanwhile, from Washington D.C., here's the "official" photo of us receiving the Cooperative Conservation Award. Left to right: Kevin Bacher, Volunteer Program Manager; Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks; Lindi Harvey, National Park Service Deputy Director for Support Services; Sean Smith, National Parks Conservation Association Regional Director; Jay Satz, Student Conservation Association Vice President for Western Initiatives; Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne; and Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.