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.