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!

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