Friday, October 31, 2008


I've just posted our Annual Activity and Expense Report for fiscal year 2008, which I finally completed yesterday after a couple of weeks submerged in data. THANK YOU to volunteer Sharon Wilhelm for helping me to sort out and enter about 700 records of volunteer hours into my database, along with hundreds of volunteer agreement forms!

The bottom line: our total number of volunteer hours for this year is 70,130, which is down from last year's 84,038 but still up significantly from the previous year's 43,844. Furthermore, our total number of volunteers is up--from 1,724 last year to 1,837 this year (it was only 924 in FY06). Very exciting! So, what's behind the changes? I've spent a lot of time yesterday and today going over the data. Here's some of the story behind the numbers:

Individual and Group Volunteers
First, a further breakdown of the total: Those 1,837 volunteers include 424 individuals and another 1,413 people who participated as part of organized groups. I try hard not to duplicate numbers. For instance, if John Doe volunteers individually as a Meadow Rover, but also works on a project sponsored by the Mount Rainier National Park Associates, I enter his hours individually and do not count him as a "new" volunteer through MRNPA. Obviously it's just not possible to cross-check every single name in every single case, so there are probably some people among the 1,413 who were double-counted. But every year I make an effort to avoid this, so the numbers should be close, and you should be able to make accurate comparisons from year to year. I also keep a list of the names of group members for which I have contact information, which further helps me to weed out duplicates.

The 424 individuals is about double what I had on my roles before the flood. This list contains everyone who actively participated as a volunteer in either FY07 or FY08. 281 were active in 2008, which is about 50% more active volunteers, with confirmed volunteer hours this year, than I had in my entire database in 2006. The other 143 names are people who were active "in the field" in 2007 but not in 2008 (but whom we hope will return in 2009!). Anyone who was inactive in both 2007 and 2008 has been removed from the roles and is not counted. [Added 3pm:] (Worth noting: Last year we had 1,412 group volunteers--almost exactly the same as this year--but only 312 individuals. That means that well over a hundred of this year's individual volunteers are brand new, and volunteering as individuals for the first time.)

I track groups in my database the same way: once they're inactive for two years running, they're removed from the list. I have 59 groups who participated either this year or last. However, I only count group members who were active this year in this year's total of 1,413 volunteers. Many of these groups have been featured on this blog over the past several months; they include employee associations, environmental groups, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, schools, and other organizations. Champion among them this year was the Washington Trails Association, which was responsible for bringing 336 volunteers to Mount Rainier this year for a total of 3,648 hours of service on the ground (not counting travel and administrative time); and, of course, the Student Conservation Association's Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative, which accounted for 3,871 public volunteer hours and 657 volunteers on 107 different projects--plus another 2,126 hours of volunteer training sponsored by a grant from Boeing.

So, that explains this year's numbers and where they came from. Buy why were our volunteer hours down from last year? Put more positively, why were they still up so dramatically over 2006, despite the lack of urgency caused by the flood? Why were our number of volunteers up even though our total hours were down? Read on:

Where our numbers were down

  • The largest drop in volunteer numbers was in the area of trail repair. Last year we recorded a whopping 36,058 hours of trail repair by 998 volunteers, all in response to the immense need caused by the floods of November 2006. This year we had fewer flood projects with less urgency, and did not work with as many outside volunteer groups like the Tacoma Urban League to get the work done. We had fewer Conservation Leadership Corps groups as well. Even WTA's total hours in the park were down from 2007, though they worked with more individuals. All told, this year's reported trail hours were 16,816, involving 658 people.
  • Flood recovery hours were down in other areas as well. The Mount Rainier Recovery Corps was smaller this year and logged fewer hours in the field, though they more than made up for it with training hours (see below). Campground maintenance hours dropped from 1,547 to 538--there was just less work this year that needed to be done.
  • Hours were down in the areas of frontcountry and wilderness patrol, mostly because we hired fewer Student Conservation Association volunteers this year. Total hours were down from 8,545 to 5,636.
  • The hours reported by our greenhouse and exotic plant control programs were also down due to hiring fewer SCA interns. This not only eliminated the hours reported by the interns themselves, but also limited these programs' capacities for working with public volunteers. Greenhouse hours dropped from 1,446 to 346, and without an Exotic Plant Control team, those numbers dropped from 2,460 to 210. The numbers, however, were offset by large increases in the areas of revegetation and seed collection (see below).
  • Campground Host hours dropped from 2,136 to 1,242. This was in large part due to the lack of full-time hosts at Ohanapecosh this year, caused by problems with hazard trees around the campground host site. We're pleased that this problem has now been corrected, and we are currently recruiting for campground hosts at both Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh next summer.
  • Our climbing program has relied on volunteers for years. Due to lack of funding, the program was much smaller this year, and their volunteer numbers reflected it. Climbing volunteer hours were down from 3,076 to 840.

Each of these programs is an area for growth in the coming year. There's no getting around the importance of having someone dedicated to recruiting and working with public volunteers in park programs. We'll be working hard on finding ways to make volunteer recruitment and supervision a priority in every part of the park's operation, and may be recruiting volunteers or interns to help with this process. Stay tuned.

Where our numbers were up

Despite losses in some programs, others made up for it, especially in numbers of volunteers:

  • Nordic Patrol was back! The Washington Ski Touring Club was effectively banished throughout the winter of 2006-07 because park roads were closed by flood damage. They only logged 160 hours that winter. Last year they were back in force with 1,124 hours, and they're already polishing their skis for this winter.
  • The park's curatorial program increased its volunteer hours from 1,157 to 4,773, with a large increase in their number of active volunteers. Curator Brooke Childrey has secured funding to continue her highly successful work with volunteers in 2009. Watch for volunteer position advertisements!
  • The interpretation programs at Ohanapecosh, Paradise, and Sunrise all increased their numbers: from 612 to 1,389 at Ohanapecosh; from 1,797 to 2,551 at Paradise; and from 573 to 838 at Sunrise--all without increasing their number of full-time interns hired through the Student Conservation Association. Rangers at Paradise worked with volunteers and a professor on sabbatical from Ball State University to staff the information desk, provide interpretation on park shuttle buses, and conduct research. At Ohanapecosh, east district interpreter Julia Pinnix had volunteers doing everything from trail and campground patrol to sorting photographic slides. A "Jr. Ranger Ambassador" further increased our numbers while drafting a new Junior Ranger handbook.
  • Meadow Rover numbers were also up dramatically yet again: from 3,329 to 4,666--notably, with about the same number of active participants. Many of these individuals were new to the program last year and have continued serving this year.
  • Natural Resources Field Projects were some of our greatest successes this year, with an increase in participation from 1 person to 37 and a corresponding increase in volunteer hours from 110 to 3,144. Public volunteers and inters from Evergreen State College helped with soundscape monitoring, amphibian surveys, and other projects, and program manager Barbara Samora is already working on ideas to continue and expand these programs next year, with the help of partnerships and funding grants.
  • The revegetation and seed collection programs both reported increased participation, with individuals at the helm--Sara Koenig and Will Arnesen--who were dedicated to working with volunteers. Reveg worked with 68 volunteers in 2007 who contributed 934 hours. This year, 280 volunteers contributed 3,200 hours. This includes an increase in the number of volunteer groups we worked with from 4 to 10. Seed collection participation was up from 259 hours by 25 people in 2007, to 514 hours by 72 people in 2008, including four groups.
  • Geomorphologist Paul Kennard made excellent use of volunteer partnerships to increase volunteer participation in stream survey efforts from 100 hours by 2 people in 2007 to 1,840 hours by 9 people in 2008. These numbers included help from three interns: two from SCA and one from the Geological Society of America.
  • The archeology program, under Greg Burtchard, increased its volunteer hours from 243 to 1,407, in large part by working very effectively with a class from PLU.
  • Finally, let's not forget training! Through a grant from Boeing, SCA offered several valuable training courses this summer, including Wilderness First Aid, Wilderness First Responder, and Crosscut Saw certification. These courses were wildly popular and were attended by 71 people, who gained skills that will help them personally and will also make them more effective volunteers. Based on this year's experience, we'll try to continue offering high quality training in the future as "professional development" opportunities for our volunteers.

Next up: figuring out how to hold on to these gains in volunteer participation, and replicate them throughout our program. Our goal: to work in partnership with volunteers on an ongoing basis in stewardship of our national park!

Annual Activity and Expense Report

Annual Activity and Expense Report
Mount Rainier National Park

Report Date: Oct 30, 2008
Fiscal Year: 2008

Volunteer Coordinator and Park Information

Total Volunteers: 1,837 (up from 1,724 in FY07)
Alpha Code: MORA
VIP Coordinator: Kevin Bacher
VIP Coordinator Phone: 360-569-2211
Coordinator Email:

Volunteer hours by category:

Administration: 1,298.00
Campground Host: 1,242.00
Cultural Resource Management: 4,531.00
General Management: 327.00
Interpretation: 20,117.00
Maintenance: 2,193.00
Natural Resource Management: 13,140.00
Protection/Operations/Law Enforcement: 24,721.00
Training: 2,561.00
Total: 70,130 (down from 84,038 in FY07)

Program costs by category:

Housing: $ 3,175.00
Meals: $ 4,992.00
Recognition/Award: $ 389.00
Supplies: $ 8,334.00
Training: $ 0.00
Transportation: $ 2,154.00
Uniforms: $ 2,860.00

Volunteer Program Highlight

This year marked the second year of our Flood Recovery Initiative following the floods of November 2006, including the second and final year of a major partnership with the Student Conservation Association to recruit and lead volunteer work projects with the help of (this year) a 10-person Conservation Corps. The Corps was supported, in part, by $5,000 in regional Special Project Funding. While we didn't record as many volunteer hours as last year, we actually worked with more individuals than ever, a testimony to the success of our outreach efforts in recruiting new volunteers, especially youth. SCA also helped with fundraising, securing, among others, a $93,000 grant from Boeing Corporation to fund youth volunteers, volunteer training, and partnerships with the National Parks Conservation Association and Washington Trails Association. These partnerships were honored with a Cooperative Conservation Award from DOI in April, and the volunteer program received a George B. Hartzog Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service in May. Superintendent Uberuaga received a Federal Land Manager's Award for his support of the volunteer program in July. Overall, volunteer participation increased in almost every aspect of park operations, as park supervisors and program managers embraced the idea of partnering with volunteers in stewardship of Mount Rainier National Park.


How many people at the park require VIP Program Mgmt Training: 8

Optional Information Regarding Housing VIPS and Campground Hosts

Number of Campground Hosts: 3
Number of VIPs housed in Permanent Structures: 38
Number of VIPs housed in Trailers: 0

Trailer Pads for Volunteers: 4

Other Information

Number of SCAs: 30
SCA Hours: 17585
Number of Artists in Parks: 0
Artist in Parks Hours: 0
Number of International VIPs: 13
International VIPS Hours: 852
Number of Volunteer Senior Ranger Corps: 0
Volunteer Senior Ranger Corps Hours: 0

Monday, October 20, 2008

Children in Nature

Volunteer John Chao sent me this link last Friday. Good, thought-provoking reading:

"Parents of children with attention deficit problems are always looking for new strategies to help their children cope. An interesting new study suggests that spending time in nature may help."

Here's an idea: combine a day in nature with a lesson in civic participation!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The end of an era (and beginning of another)

Octobers are always bittersweet in the volunteer office. The summer season is wrapping up, the leaves are turning brilliant colors, and there's a chill in the air. (Are those snowflakes drifting through the branches?) At the same time, a seasonal program like ours can get pretty intense in the summer time, and we look forward to the "slow" months to step back, catch our breath, recharge, and plan for the next year. That explains the lack of posts to this blog over the past weeks: there's less to report than usual, but there are also a lot of distractions not present earlier in the summer. In case you weren't aware, we opened a brand new visitor center last week, and next week I'll be out of the office all week participating in our interpretive program's annual staff retreat, helping to set strategy for the future of the volunteer program. When I am in the office, I've been madly typing e-mails and making phone calls, wrangling volunteer hours in preparation for the end-of-(fiscal)-year reports due on October 31--an all-consuming process. We also have a major conference of the National Association for Interpretation coming up in mid-November in Portland to prepare for. So, whew, it's autumn, but things haven't really slowed down much yet!

October is also bittersweet for a more important reason. The last of our Mount Rainier Recovery Corps members left the park at the end of September, and Jill Baum and Ginny Galbreth have stayed on for a few weeks just to wrap up the program. When I came in to catch up on some e-mail today, the last pile of supplies was sitting on my chair: radios, records, uniform shirts.

After almost two years of working with Jill Baum, it hardly seems possible that the Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative has finally come to a close. It's been a tremendously successful partnership, one that has not only gotten a huge amount of work done, but one that has made major strides toward making volunteerism an integral part of everything we do at Mount Rainier National Park. I'm grateful to Jill for her leadership in this important enterprise, and am also grateful for her friendship. I will miss the wonderful young people she recruited over the past two years, and I will miss her most of all.

Of course, this is not the end of volunteerism at Mount Rainier, nor the end of our partnership with SCA, nor even the end of our work on flood recovery. Our volunteer program continues, better than ever; I'm dying to share with you the statistics from this past year, once they're finally compiled, because I suspect they're going to be impressive. We will continue to hire SCA interns, as we always have, including, hopefully, several who will work directly with volunteers next summer (so keep an eye on SCA's recruitment pages for the announcement of these positions). And flood recovery continues full-speed-ahead at Carbon River, Glacier Basin, and elsewhere.

When we held our farewell gatherings for Jill, I presented her with a copy of Ruth Kirk's book "Sunrise to Paradise," signed by people all over the park. I chose this book as a memento because it captures the spirit and history of Mount Rainier's first hundred years as a national park--and because Jill and her fellow leaders from SCA, over the past two years, have helped write the preamble to the next chapter in Mount Rainier's history. It's one that will continue to be written, in years to come, by each of you who participate as volunteers. I believe that we are at the beginning of an era: one in which volunteers, more than ever before, work together with professional park rangers in stewardship of this grand place.

Thank you, Jill, for your part in making it happen.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Are you missing out? Join the Rainier Volunteers discussion group!

If you're not a member of the Rainier Volunteers discussion group, you might be!

Many of you have become faithful readers of this blog, where I've tried to keep you posted with all the latest news about our beloved volunteer program. However, there is another resource for information of interest to volunteers. It includes discussions on such important issues as how much snow to expect this winter, what kind of wild cat George Coulbourn saw near Mowich Lake last week, what the park should do (if anything) to restore the Carbon River Road, and whether 500 hours is too many before park volunteers receive recognition for their service in the form of an annual pass.

I also regularly forward e-mails that I receive in my inbox containing basic information about activities in the park that might be of interest to volunteers. Want to hear the latest about plans for the grand opening of the new visitor center? Curious about why helicopters were hovering over the Fourth Crossing trail at Paradise? Care to join us for a farewell luncheon for Jill Baum (Wednesday noon in the Longmire Administration Building conference room), who will be moving on this weekend after two years as director of the Mount Rainier Recovery Initiative? It's all posted in the discussion group. When you sign up, you can choose to receive updates as they're added. That way you'll always know when a notice goes out to all employees about road construction delays, or about current trail conditions.

And, of course, if you don't see the information you're looking for, you can post a query of your own: "How are the flowers looking at Spray Park this week?" And within 24 hours, usually, someone will post a response. It's virtual interactive volunteerism!

Here's the link. Join the discussion!

Volunteer Slideshow 2008

Here, at last, is a link to the volunteer program slideshow I presented on National Public Lands Day. Sorry for the delay in posting it, I was having trouble getting logged in to the National Park Service website that hosts the file. NOTE: The file is nearly 40 megabytes in size. For best results, start your favorite music, then start the slide show (it lasts about 12 minutes), sit back, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Further updates on National Public Lands Day

Here's another recap of our accomplishments on National Public Lands Day, from Project Manager Jill Baum. Thanks again to everyone who helped!

Mount Rainier Recovery National Public Lands Day 2008 Projects

Longmire Campground Restoration

  • 27 volunteers, morning only, including Boy Scout Troop 516, plus one Recovery Corps staff member, one Recovery Corps crew leader, and one volunteer crew leader
  • Description: Restoration work in the historic Longmire Campground continues as we carefully reopen sites which will become a future base for volunteer camping. Work will involve debris removal, pathway delineation, brush clearing, raking, structure restoration and general clean-up.
  • Accomplishments: Picked up debris, raked wood chips, winterized picnic tables.

Glacier View Road Clean-up

  • 25 volunteers, including Conservation Leadership Corps (afternoon only), plus one Recovery Corps crew leader
  • Description: Join us as we assist the Forest Service in cleaning up Road 59 next to Copper Creek. The litter and trash accumulated, and we need your help to clean up this well-used retreat.
  • Accomplishments: Collected approximately 50 bags of trash, 10 bags of recycling, 3 kitchen sinks along ~3 miles of road and a dozen campsites; demolished and removed 1 camper.

Kautz Bridge Finish

  • 4 volunteers plus two Recovery Corps crew leaders
  • Description: Let’s finish this bridge! This bridge construction project is near completion but is in need of a final push to get the decking on and rehab the immediate area. Roundtrip hiking distance is approximately 6 miles, including some steep uphill sections.
  • Accomplishments: Installed kick rails, finished decking, built approaches, rehabilitated work areas.

Paradise Planting

  • 27 volunteers plus NPS staff and two Recovery Corps crew leaders
  • Description: The new JVC is ready to open! Now we need to replant native species in the impacted construction and new landscaping areas. We will be planting thousands of seedlings and salvaged plants.
  • Accomplishments: Planted ~2500 native seedlings.

Mile 9 Restoration

  • 6 volunteers plus NPS reveg crew leaders
  • Description: After the floods from last fall, we need to replant native species in the impacted areas in order to help control erosion and stabilize the banks. We will be planting Willow stakes, seeding bare areas and salvaging plants.
  • Accomplishments: Planted ~600 plants and seeded new road edge.

Snow Lake and Pinnacle Peak Trails Brushing

  • 6 volunteers plus NPS trails staff and two Recovery Corps crew leaders
  • Description: Enjoy the scenery of the Paradise area from Reflection Lake area. Trails are in need of brush cutting and drainage clearing, so join our crew as we reestablish the trail corridor in these locations.
  • Accomplishments: Cleared .2 miles of Snow Lake Trail (thick brush) and 1.2 miles of Pinnacle Peak Trail (to saddle).

Longmire-Cougar Rock WT Reroute

  • 4 volunteers plus NPS trails staff and two Recovery Corps crew leaders
  • Description: A 2000’ section of the Wonderland Trail washed out in the flood, and a huge assortment of park staff, volunteer organizations, and public volunteers have put in a massive effort to build a new section of Wonderland Trail over the past two seasons. The end is in sight on this massive project, and we need your help with the last stretch of tread construction, including finish up work on a new bridge.
  • Accomplishments: Hauled 10 wheelbarrow loads of fill, groomed 200’ of tread, rehabbed bridge work site, finished approaches and decking.

Total public volunteers: 102 (42 youth!)
Total volunteer hours (not including leaders): 509