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!

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