Friday, March 27, 2009

Serve America, Olympic newsletter, Family Fun, and Earth Hour

Here are several items that may be of current interest to our readers:

  • I've been tracking the House of Representatives' GIVE Act, which passed last week. The Senate has now overwhelmingly passed its version of the bill, the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The two bills will now go to a conference committee for reconciliation. Given how strongly both bills passed, the final bill will likely end up at the White House soon for the President's signature.
  • The March edition of the Olympic National Park Newsletter is now online at Check it out for news and photos, including updates on Elwha construction projects, park visitation and more; recent honor awards for two Olympic NP rangers; and upcoming events, including National Park Week celebrations and more.
  • A month ago, I mentioned an article in the recent issue of Family Fun magazine, talking about volunteer opportunities with family. Author Melissa Gaskill has now posted a copy of the article on her blog, which you can read here.
  • And finally, a "volunteer" opportunity you can carry out at home, sent to me by Acting Deputy Superintendent Roger Andrascik, who says:

    Earth Hour: Join an effort that recognizes the importance of one of Mount Rainier’s special resources—the dark night sky. Flick off your light switches during a worldwide event, Earth Hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 28. More than 500 cities in approximately 75 countries have pledged to participate in the World Wildlife Fund’s one hour of solidarity to combat global warming. Earth Hour, which began in Sydney, Australia, in 2007, is being presented as an election in which you can "Vote Earth" by switching off non-essential power; election results will be presented at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year. Mount Rainier National Park votes every day for dark night skies—undisturbed by light and air pollution—because those skies have natural, cultural, and scenic importance. If current light pollution trends continue, there will be almost no dark skies left in the contiguous United States by 2025. So, register for Earth Hour at For more on night skies and the NPS Natural Lightscape program, see the

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Volunteering in America

I've been browsing the latest data on a website called "Volunteering in America," which tracks trends in volunteerism around the country. It has some fascinating facts about volunteers in Washington and, more specifically, in Seattle, one of 50 large cities surveyed around the country.

Along with a lot of other details, here are a few interesting facts:
  • Washington State has 1.7 million volunteers who contribute more than 240 million hours of service per year (48.5 hours per resident), worth an estimated $4.7 billion dollars.

  • This places Washington 4th within the 50 states in the average number of volunteer hours per citizen. We are exceeded only by Utah, Idaho, and Alaska, and Oregon is close behind in 5th place.

  • Volunteer retention in Washington from one year to the next is 71.6%, the 8th highest rate ni the nation.

  • Washington is 12th overall in the percentage of its citizens who volunteer. However, in the Young Adult age group (ages 16-24), we rank 3rd, behind Utah and (by a hair) Minnesota. Our rate is 45% higher than the national average.

  • Our standing is even better in the Teenage age group (ages 16-19), where we're tied with North Dakota and Vermont for first place. Our 42.3% volunteer rate exceeds the national average by 56%.

  • The rate in Seattle is 46.9 hours per person, making it 3rd among the 50 large cities surveyed in terms of volunteer hours and 4th in terms of the percentage of citizens who volunteer.

  • The total number of volunteer hours contributed has, however, declined for four years running, from more than 150 million hours total in 2004 to less than 110 million in 2007. Interestingly, the percentage of people who volunteer has only slipped slightly (and less than the national average), suggesting that similar numbers are volunteering, but for shorter periods of time.

  • This is mirrored by the Washington state totals. The rate of volunteerism actually went up from 2006 to 2007, bucking the national trend, but total hours volunteered decreased significantly.

It will be very interesting to see how these numbers evolve over time. Will our high rate of youth volunteerism eventually lead to higher rates of adult volunteerism? How will the current financial crises affect rates of volunteerism?

Fascinating stuff.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A New Era of Service Across America

It's worth noting that an op ed piece by President Barack Obama appeared in this week's Time Magazine, reaffirming his commitment to national service. As I've mentioned earlier on this blog, legislation is now making its way through Congress in support of this goal. Here's an exerpt from what the President had to say:

And while our government can provide every opportunity imaginable for us to serve our communities, it is up to each of us to seize those opportunities. To do our part to lift up our fellow Americans. To realize our own true potential by hitching our wagon to something bigger than ourselves.
The President stressed that this is a bipartisan issue:

For decades, leaders from both parties have sought to promote that ethic of service: President Richard Nixon expanded opportunities for senior citizens to serve; President George H.W. Bush called for volunteers to serve as "points of light" in their communities; President Bill Clinton established the Corporation for National and Community Service. And on Sept. 11, 2008, in the midst of a spirited general-election campaign, Senator John McCain and I put aside our differences and came together in New York City to issue a joint call to public service. It was an important reminder that while our politics is often focused on what divides us, there is much more that unites us.
You can read the entire piece on the Time Magazine website.

I've also enjoyed the photos of First Lady Michelle Obama serving as, essentially, a volunteer crew leader with a group of students, breaking ground on the White House vegetable garden. Way to go, Michelle! If you're ever in Washington, stop by Mount Rainier and we'll put you to work!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Coming soon: A full schedule of volunteer opportunities

I had a brainstorm last night as I was falling asleep. Why not put together a schedule of volunteer projects lasting throughout the summer, provided that the details may not be predictable until we get closer to the specific dates?

Here's what I mean. In the past, we've worked with park supervisors to come up with specific volunteer projects, which we've then advertised to occur on specific dates. We then recruit volunteers for those specific events, or match up existing interested volunteers or volunteer groups to complete them. This summer, we are hiring four volunteer coordinators (see the job postings in the right-hand column of this blog), in trails, maintenance, plant ecology, and citizen science, who will be tasked with organizing such projects and recruiting volunteers. The projects will evolve over the course of the summer, depending on weather and workflow; for example, the plant ecology position might start out working in the greenhouse, then move to exotic species removal, followed by revegetation and seed collection. What will we be doing on the 4th of July weekend? Who knows? It'll depend on how quickly the snow melts and how rapidly the plants grow and produce seeds. But there is no question that our staff will be working on something that week. So why not take a leap of faith and say that something in the field of plant ecology will be available for volunteers to help with that weekend? We may not be able to tell you just what until we get closer to the date--even a lot closer--but it'll be something, and if you'd like to set that weekend aside now, or even plan to fly here from Boston for a few days, why not let you sign up? If no one shows up, well, hey, we'll be out working anyway. But I'll bet people would.

This is how Golden Gate National Recreation Area works. You can go to their website (actually, the website of their partner, the Golden Gate National Parks Association) and see a calendar of regularly-scheduled volunteer opportunities extending out for months from the present date. Each opportunity listing gives you detailed information about the range of possible projects that may happen on that date, and for the ones coming up, specifically what will be done and where. It tells you how to sign up--either by registering online, or by contacting the project manager, or just by showing up. You can download volunteer registration forms to fill out and turn in when you arrive.

There's so much potential here. Plant ecology, trail construction, meadow roving, citizen science, maintenance, historic restoration--all can, to some extent, be scheduled in the broadest of terms. Next week, I'll put together a draft schedule and share it with some of our program managers. With any luck, by sometime in April we should be able to give you some very specific ideas about how and when you can productively contribute as a volunteer. Meanwhile, let me know what you think!

P.S. This fits closely with our goal of finalizing plans for volunteer groups, as well. If you've already contacted us to express interest in bringing your organized group to the park for a volunteer experience, we should be getting back to you soon with specific projects and dates. If you haven't contacted us yet, of course, there's still time! We love to work with school groups, civic groups, employee organizations, and any other group. Just drop me a note and let me know you're interested, and we'll put you in the queue!

The GIVE Act

Just as I said yesterday, things are moving rapidly in Washington, D.C. with respect to national voluntary service programs. I got an e-mail yesterday with a link to an excellent story on National Public Radio about the GIVE Act, which would triple the size of the Americorps program and create several new sub-programs. It's unclear at this point exactly how the program would affect our volunteer program here at Mount Rainier, though depending on how the legislation is written, it could enhance our ability to work with partners like the Student Conservation Association. The devil is in the details, of course, and I know that our friends at SCA, NPCA, and other organizations have been working feverishly to make sure that the final bill, while creating and supporting new volunteer opportunities, is friendly to our existing programs and partnerships.

As of today, the House overwhelmingly passed its version of the bill; the Senate is expected to adopt a nearly identical bill next week. I'll certainly pass on to you anything specific that filters down to the field level about specific implications of the bill for our program. Meanwhile, you can read a summary of the Act in question on Senator Mikulski's website.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

John Muir, 100 Years on Skis, and Ken Burns: Three upcoming events

John Muir in Seattle
One last reminder! The National Parks Conservation Association is hosting a very special event tomorrow, Thursday, March 19. John Muir, the father of the modern conservation movement, is coming to Seattle. Lee Stetson is an actor who has portrayed John Muir for years at Yosemite National Park and around the country. On Thursday, March 19th, he will be visiting Seattle’s Town Hall to present The Spirit of John Muir. This show is a fun romp through some of the very best of Muir's grand, thrilling adventures in his beloved western wilderness. The show includes Muir's encounters with a mighty Yosemite earthquake, dangerous Alaskan ice crevasses, snow blindness, and much more - all liberally salted with Muir's wilderness philosophy. Doors open at 6:00 PM; Show starts at 6:30PM. The presentation will be at Town Hall Seattle, 1119 Eighth Avenue (at Seneca Street). Tickets purchased today will be $7.00 plus applicable fees at: Tickets purchased at the door will be $10.00. Cash or check only please.

A Centennial of Skiing
Acting Superintendent Randy King passes this along from Lowell Skoog, chairman of the Mountaineers History Committee in Seattle:

...For several years I've been working on a book about the history of backcountry skiing in Washington. Through my research I've become aware of a seminal event in Northwest skiing that occurred 100 years ago this month. It was a ski outing to Longmire by a group of professional people from Seattle and Tacoma. They included several prominent U.W. professors and the mayor of Tacoma. Prof. Milnor Roberts, the organizer, wrote an article about the trip for the 1909 National Geographic Magazine called "A Wonderland of Glaciers and Snow." Because of this important article, I think of this event as the birth of recreational skiing in Washington. A few weeks ago I started organizing an informal celebration of this event to take place at Paradise on Sunday, March 22. The celebration would be a gathering of backcountry skiers, perhaps a brief commemorative ceremony, and (weather permitting) a short tour to Sluiskin Falls, the high-point of the 1909 party's ski ventures. I'm planning to wear old-fashioned clothing and ski gear, and I'm hoping a few others will as well. I don't know how many people will come, but I imagine there may be ten to twenty of us. Our tentative plan is to meet at the Paradise visitor center after the road from Longmire opens in the morning. So far, the organization has taken place on the Turns-All-Year skiers' website, on the following thread:

This thread includes a few photos, background information, and the complete text of the 1909 National Geographic article. I've also been in touch with Craig Hill of the Tacoma News Tribune and I believe the paper will be running a story about this. I'm writing to let you know about this event and to invite you and any park staff who may be interested to join us on Sunday, March 22. I'm not expecting a big to-do -- just a light-hearted gathering of skiers to celebrate a unique date in the local history of our sport. I would be delighted to meet you or any of your staff there.

Best regards,

Lowell Skoog

Ken Burns Preview
And finally, a very special invitation to our staff (including volunteers) and supporters, from Acting Superintendent Randy King and North Cascades Superintendent Chip Jenkins:

You, your family and friends are invited to attend a Monday, April 20 preview of the 6-part, 12-hour documentary on the National Park System that will air on PBS in late September, entitled The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Noted film makers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan will speak and show a preview of their new film in Seattle. This is part of a series of events around the country intended to build public awareness and excitement about the forthcoming PBS documentary series, and about the national parks. If you make the trip to Seattle, you will find the event enjoyable and the film inspirational.

Download a flier from the National Parks Conservation Association and KCTS announcing the event, which will be held at 7pm at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The event is free, though to help manage participation free tickets are required and available through:

This is an opportunity for park staff, partners, friends and key opinion makers to get a chance to see previews as well as to hear from and talk with the film makers and author of the companion book. The goal is to have 1,5000 attend, so please share the information.

More information on the upcoming documentary can be found here.

Want a more personal introduction to the documentary? Consider joining Washington's National Park Fund for a preview of the preview, if you will, on Sunday, April 19. The evening's emcee will be Phil Ershler, world-renowned mountaineer and director of International Mountain Guides. The special presentation will be held in Seattle's Magnuson Park with a Northwest-themed dinner. Hear the latest news from the Superintendents of Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Parks; celebrate successful 2008 projects; and learn about new initiatives for 2009. The evening will conclude with a "Fund a Project" Auction, all benefiting Washington's national parks. Visit The Fund's website for more information.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thunder on the Mountain

Hey, I just discovered that Backpacker Magazine's January article about Mount Rainier is now online! Here's a link to it. Happy reading.

Back in the office

I'm back in the office this week, and am amazed by the number of e-mails and phone messages I have to respond to! If you've contacted me over the past two weeks or so, please be patient, I'm still working my way through my e-mail and will get back to you as soon as possible.

I'm also getting updates, in bits and pieces, on developments in Washington D.C. related to volunteerism and community service. There are some very exciting proposals moving through the halls of government--and an immense amount of effort on behalf of a lot of people to make sure that the final proposals are strong. Lots to get caught up on, and I'll keep you posted as I hear specifics.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Volunteer Assistant hired, now hiring volunteer coordinators

I'd like to extend a warm welcome to our new volunteer program assistant, Nick Abel, who will be joining us in early May to help coordinate the volunteer program this summer! Nick comes to us from Issaquah; he has been pursuing studies in mathematics and computer science, but is interested in gaining some leadership experience in other fields. We're looking forward to working with him this summer. Nick will first attend volunteer training later this month at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He'll be part of our program through October.

Meanwhile, we are still recruiting for volunteer coordinator volunteers or interns in four different program areas in the park: trails, maintenance, plant ecology, and citizen science. These positions have been advertised both as 16-week SCA internships and also as volunteer positions with flexible start and end dates. All four positions come with housing and training, and provide a unique opportunity to get in on the ground floor of an exciting new volunteer program structure at Mount Rainier National Park.

To apply, follow one or more of the following links:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Out and about in San Francisco

If you've tried contacting me at my office this past week, you've gotten a message saying that I'm out of town. Actually, while everyone back home has been suffering through unseasonably cold, snowy weather, I've been in sunny San Francisco. (Who'd have thought San Francisco would be so sunny?)

I came down to attend Advanced Volunteer Program training Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, and flew in a few days early to "shadow" Golden Gate's legendary volunteer program. On Friday I went out to Alcatraz Island with volunteers who, along with the Garden Conservancy, are restoring the landscaped areas of the island. These are dedicated recurring volunteers, many of whom who come out several times a month to contribute to the ongoing work, much as our own greenhouse and meadow rover volunteers do. Other volunteers serve as docents, give visitor orientations, and lead tours of the island. An NPS ranger officially oversaw the volunteer operations, but the actual coordination of activities was done by a Conservancy employee.
On Saturday, I joined the "Area A Restoration Program," a drop-in program that, on that particular day, was working at removing invasive oxalis from the Whary Dunes area of the Presidio. I worked alongside about 30 other volunteers, some of whom come out regularly as their schedules permit, others, like myself, who had never volunteered before. We were led by employees of the Presidio Trust and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy.

On Sunday, with a helpful carpool from a volunteer named Roland, I traveled up to the Stinson Beach area of the Marin Headlands to pull Scotch broom and plant native grasses in an old horse pasture, as part of a Restoration Stewards program led by the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy. We were a combination of regular volunteers, who immediately headed off into the brush to work independently as soon as they arrived, and a group from Chico College's "CAVE" program (Community Action, Volunteerism, and Education), also called "Eco Chico." Like me, they were new to this work, so we took a little more guidance and training, but soon we were all happily pulling weeds, avoiding poison oak, sharing stories, and getting muddy.
The most interesting part of the experience, besides the satisfaction of getting some good work done, was the noticeable lack of NPS presence. Rangers showed up here and there to support the volunteer operations, and one directly led our orientation and training on Sunday, but for the most part, the projects were led by partners: the Garden Conservancy, the Presidio Trust, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. In many cases interns or volunteers themselves had major roles in running or coordinating the programs. Despite this apparent lack of direct oversight, everything ran smoothly, and everyone involved was obviously passionate about the work they were doing to protect and restore national park habitats. Clearly, this is the result of a lot of partnership-building, and a lot of trust that has been established between the NPS and its partners. It's interesting to think of how such an organizational structure would be shaped at Mount Rainier. We don't currently have a park partner as intimately intertwined with our operations as the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. However, we do work closely with SCA, and are venturing into hiring SCA interns and/or volunteers to work within our programs to coordinate volunteers.
Another interesting aspect of Golden Gate's volunteer program is that they don't hire "volunteer coordinators" per se in most cases. Instead, they hire people to lead a project: for example, habitat restoration at a particular site. That person's job isn't just to do the work, nor to hire volunteers to do the work, but rather to work in partnership with volunteers to accomplish the project goals. The idea of somehow getting the work done without the help of volunteers isn't even a consideration.
Our classroom training this week has also been productive, though in a very different way. We spent the first day of training hearing from Jon Jarvis, the Regional Director; Joy Pietschmann, the national volunteer program manager; and Jay Watson, the local regional director of SCA. Our group kept them hopping, peppering them all with questions about current policies regarding volunteerism, from budgets and funding to the priorities of the current presidential administration to new homeland security requirements. We hard from several individuals who shared success stories from the innovative programs at their home parks.
Today, we spent the day with Rick Lynch, a consultant who spoke to us about supervision and delegation. Sounds like a dry topic, but Rick made it interesting with his wry humor and stories, and along the way we learned how to encourage those we supervise--including and especially volunteers--to take on higher levels of responsibility.
Tomorrow we will hear from Julia Washburn about collaboration--certainly another topic of direct importance to our program at Mount Rainier!
I'll be back in the office on Tuesday the 17th.