Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Some thoughts on the future of volunteers in the division of Interpretation

Over the next month or so, I will be meeting with program managers all over the park to discuss their plans for working with volunteers in the coming year, and to discuss ways that volunteers can improve their programs in the long term. I meet with representatives from our division of Interpretation last week, who had some really good ideas.

The primary volunteer program in the division of interpretation, of course, is our Meadow Rover program. This will continue to be a major focus, as it has proved to be a tremendously successful way of educating visitors about the importance of staying on trails in the fragile subalpine environments. There's a lot of interest in increasing the visibility of Rovers, ideally in a way that positively identifies them as members of this very special program. We're looking into options for a special Meadow Rover patch, and are open to other suggestions as well.

We also discussed ways of better coordinating where the Rovers rove and what they do. One excellent idea is to plan a 10:00 a.m. meeting every Saturday at both Paradise and Sunrise, hosted by an experience meadow rover in cooperation with park staff. Programmed intentionally into the staff schedule, this would help us to make sure that the latest and best information about current conditions is passed on to our volunteers, and it would provide a reliable time and place for new rovers to meet with mentors who could help them learn the trails and procedures of the program.

One perennial need of the program, especially at Sunrise, is for additional hand-held radios. I have $1,000 in a donation account, left over from last year, and look into using it to purchase an additional radio for the Sunrise program. They run about $1200 apiece.

The "Meadow" Rover program has been expanding in recent years to include viewpoint, campground, and forest roving as well, and that will continue this summer. Julia Pinnix has been very welcoming to volunteers at Ohanapecosh, and has lots of ideas for using them to provide a better Park Service presence at the Grove of the Patriarchs and Tipsoo Lake. She also has some great long-term ideas for expanding Junior Ranger program opportunities, perhaps in combination with youth service projects.

Finally, the "Shadows of the Past" living history program remains a key opportunity for enhanced volunteer involvement. I've applied for grants from a couple of different sources (some of which wouldn't come through till future years) to expand this very popular program with the help of a troupe of volunteers: the Longmire Players, if you will. Currently, we offer Shadows of the Past only about once per season, because of the logistical challenges and overtime costs involved in doing it with park staff. Yet it's always one of the most well-attended programs we do, and everyone involved has a great time doing it. With volunteers, we could offer the program at least once a month if not more often. Our grant proposals seek funding for a staff person to coordinate a pilot program, purchase additional costumes and supplies, and provide travel reimbursements for the volunteers. But even if the grants don't come through, or not till future years, we would still like to include volunteers whenever we do the program next. I'll be posting a volunteer recruitment announcement to this effect soon.

I meet with the staff of our Natural and Cultural Resources division tomorrow.

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