Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association featured on OIA Website

Thanks to Mika Moore, Mount Rainier's partnership with the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association is currently one of the featured articles on the news page of the National Park Service's Office of International Affairs. Check it out here!

As Moore points out, more than 250 "J-VIPA" members have contributed almost 20,000 hours of service to Mount Rainier over the past 16 years. The group will return this summer again, to work on a project yet to be determined.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A new team of volunteer managers trained at Fort Vancouver

I spent parts of three days this past week in Vancouver--the one without the Olympics--helping to train two dozen individuals in the fine art of working with volunteers. From paperwork (of course) to recruitment, hiring, and supervision, with a good dose of needs assessment, safety management, current events, and special challenges thrown in, our class returned to their homes at Fort Vancouver, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and farther-flung regions ready to solve the world's problems with the help of volunteers!

We also took a detailed tour of Fort Vancouver's costume department. That was insightful for me... watch this page soon for new details about the exciting costumed historic interpretation program we're developing with the help of volunteers here at Mount Rainier.

Thanks, everyone, for a great class!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thoughts from a Partnership Conference

I spent last week in San Diego at the annual Association of Partners for Public Lands (APPL) conference, listening to keynote speakers and participating in concurrent sessions about youth outreach, volunteerism, and partnerships. It was a productive conference, not least due to the opportunities to network with others in the field and share ideas. Here are a few highlights gleaned from three days of sessions:

From Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks: in lean fiscal times such as these, partners, cooperating associations, and volunteers are the only way to stay afloat. I'm sure that's true of California's state parks even more than it is, so far, with the National Parks.

From Jason Morris of NatureBridge: If we want to connect students to the natural world through our national parks, "the time is now." In a time of Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods" and the Ken Burns film, when even commercials stress "green" values, when Secretary Salazar's priorities in the Department of the Interior begin with youth employment and the engagement of youth as stewards, there's tremendous political will to support productive partnerships. NatureBridge does this by encouraging a sense of place in the natural world, teaching science "in context," and encouraging stewardship. Longitudinal studies show that long-term commitment to the natural world is based on a series of experiences, not just a single experience, and so it's critical that groups coordinate with each other to offer a continuum of learning experiences that build on one another. Marketing materials should reflect the faces of the communities we serve. NatureBridge is working with SCA (as are we here at Mount Rainier) to expand our options for connecting youth to nature to include components of education, volunteerism, internships, and youth employment.

Another great kernel of an idea: do as much preparation as possible with groups ahead of time, before they come to the park, so that you can maximize the experience in the park rather than spending it covering rules and regulations.

The best keynote speaker during the whole event was delivered by Shelton Johnson, the ranger featured so prominently in the recent PBS Documentary "National Parks: America's Best Idea." I had a chance to chat with him in person, and was pleased to discover that he's as eloquent and creative in person as he is edited on film. (He's also really tall!) From his address:

- The greatest obstacle preventing people of color from coming to national parks is a sense of security. You don't anticipate having a fun vacation someplace you don't feel secure. There are few references to wilderness in the everyday lives of people of color: in their magazines, their radio stations, their newspapers.
- To overcome this, we need to welcome people personally to the parks. Invite individuals to the parks for personal experiences. Talk to people one-on-one. Meet them in their communities, where they feel comfortable and empowered.
- Outreach needs to be less about "let us help you," and more about "can you help us? We need you!" In Johnson's words, "Hi, I work for you--I'm a public servant and you can help me out!"
- Keep going back. A single visit just confirms that you aren't serious.
- It makes a difference when kids see people like themselves in video and images from the parks.

From another session, a "round table" discussion on engaging youth in service and employment on public lands: In order to reach the community, you have to become part of the community. Often we say "I'm intimidated about going into a new community to talk about the national parks." But that's exactly how the people in those communities often feel about coming to the parks! It takes time, and it takes relationships. And outreach works best when we work in partnership with people who are already part of the community. "Peer leadership" is key: it means so much more coming from someone in their own community, even if they can't say it as "well." Be friendly, be welcoming: "don't just stand there in uniform and wait for them to come to you," because, usually, they won't.

Great things to think about as we build our outreach program for 2010.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mount Rainier volunteer vacations featured by WTA

The Washington Trails Association's Volunteer Vacations are now available for registration! Included are three week-long volunteer projects, coordinated and catered by WTA, at Mount Rainier National Park.

Also on WTA's website: an article about the value of volunteer vacations, featuring one of the trips taken last year to Mount Rainier. "Our volunteers constructed a 45’ bridge over Ipsut Creek, a place where two hikers tragically lost their lives while trying to cross the rain swollen creek in 2007. Because of our work there, hundreds of hikers are safer as they access the ever popular Carbon River/Ipsut Creek Campground, now accessible only by foot," says the article.

Join WTA this summer on a volunteer vacation--or, if you don't have a week to spare, just watch their calendar of day projects. Everything at Mount Rainier is still under snow, but it won't be long till WTA is back out on the trail at Glacier Basin, finishing up the reconstruction of a trail washed out in the floods of November 2006!

SCA's 2009 Mount Rainier Report published

The Student Conservation Association has published their report on their 2009 partnership with Mount Rainier National Park. It's been a very productive partnership, involving more than three dozen individuals and a value-for-service of almost $300,000! In these tight economic times, what could be better than a productive youth service partnership? Here's the full report (3 megabytes in Adobe PDF format).

SCA has also posted a new promotional video that's very good. Click here to check it out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Washington among the best states for volunteering in 2008

The new "Volunteering In America" report is out for 2010, including volunteer statistics through 2008. It shows some interesting trends. Washington state, meanwhile, continues to rank among the top places for volunteer service in the country. Good work, Washington!

A few nuggets from the report:

  • Washington state has 1.7 million volunteers who contribute 240 million hours of service per year, worth $4.8 billion. This is just a hair more than was reported last year; however, due to population increases, the per-person contribution dropped slightly to 47.4 hours per resident. This puts us 5th in the nation!
  • 33.7% of adults volunteered in Washington in 2008.
  • Washington especially excels at young adult volunteerism, with a participation rate of 30.8% in the age 16-24 category--second only to Utah. Our rate of teen volunteerism (ages 16-19) is a whopping 41.2%, third behind Utah and (barely) Vermont and 15% higher than the national average.
  • Our volunteer retention rate has jumped from 71.6% last year to 75.2% this year, now 3rd-best in the nation.
  • Seattle has 918,700 volunteers, with an adult volunteer rate of 34.3%, 4th among the nation's 51 largest cities (behind Minneapolis, Portland, and Salt Lake City), and a contribution of 45 hours per resident, 6th in the nation. Both of these rates have slipped slightly over last year.
  • Olympia, with 94,000 volunteers, has an impressive volunteer rate of 43.5%. Tacoma, unfortunately, was not among the 126 cities studied.
  • Nationwide, the volunteer rate has held relatively constant despite economic challenges. In 2008, 61.8 million volunteers donated 8 billion hours of service.
  • New research shows that college students, compared to the general population, are more likely to be episodic or occasional volunteers. The volunteer rate among adults today is higher than it has been in previous decades. More and more people are traveling considerable distances to volunteer, either in response to special needs or as part of "volunteer vacations." And finally, Volunteering can make you healthier! Even one to two hours per week can lead to better physical and mental health, especially for those ages 60 or older.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mount Rainier's CAMP program receives $10,000 from Washington's National Park Fund and the McKibben Merner Family Foundation

I'm very pleased to announce that Mount Rainier's "Camping Adventures with My Parents" (CAMP) program is now fully funded for 2010, thanks in part to a $10,000 donation we have recently received from the McKibben Merner Family Foundation through Washington's National Park Fund. The Foundation is committed to encouraging young people to experience nature, and believes the future existence of and support for public lands is absolutely dependent upon getting kids outdoors. The Foundation has also previously funded a mathematics professorship at the University of Washington.

The CAMP program is a perfect fit for the McKibben Merner Family Foundation. Its goals are to recruit ethnically and economically diverse families who have little or no experience with the national parks or with outdoor recreation, and to open the doors for them through faciliated 3-day camping adventures. Last summer was the pilot year of this new program. Seventy-five people in 21 families participated in the program, and based on their responses, the program was a resounding success. You can watch a video of their experience on YouTube, Yahoo Video, or Shutterfly, or view a slide show of pictures on

This year, we will offer five camping trips, expanding on last year's three, beginning in late June. We will work with more partners, including Seattle Parks and Recreation, the Student Conservation Association (SCA), and others yet to be determined. We hope to expand our recruitment beyond Seattle to some of the other metropolitan areas in the region, including Tacoma and Olympia. And through SCA, we will begin to offer further opportunities for graduates of the program, including internships through their Conservation Leadership Corps and even employment through the National Park Service's student and diversity hiring programs ("STEP" and "SCEP").

In combination with other grants, the $10,000 received from the McKibben Merner Family Foundation through Washington's National Park Fund will allow us to hire a 30-week intern through the Student Conservation Association to help manage this program, build internships, recruit and orient participants, and lead the five overnight trips. A second 12-week intern will also be hired to help run the programs in the park. These are exciting positions for which SCA is now recruiting applicants. Follow the links in this paragraph to apply!

Washington's National Park Fund, of course, has long been one of our most important partners for raising funds to support new projects and programs at Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks. Their fundraising efforts last year contributed $18,800 toward this year's volunteer program at Mount Rainier, allowing us to hire 12- to 16-week volunteer coordinator internships in our trail maintenance, citizen science, and backcountry maintenance programs, and to hire a six-month volunteer coordinator assistant (the position filled so capably last year by Nick Abel). These positions allow us to work more effectively with volunteers, and especially to improve our ability to recruit and train volunteers and offer a wide variety of options for getting involved. SCA is currently recruiting for these positions as well.

The Fund supports many other projects at Mount Rainier and the other Washington national parks. 2010 initiatives include grants for Paradise meadow restoration, next year's volunteer program, and studies of changes to the Nisqually Glacier that have contributed to devastating floods in recent years. Contributions large and small may be made for any of these projects through the Fund's website.

New Citizen Science photos

I've just uploaded 25 new photos from the Citizen Science program this past summer, showing volunteers working on amphibian surveys in some drop-dead gorgeous locations. Enjoy them on our Picasa photo site at And remember that you can still sign up for this year's Citizen Science Team!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Come to Mount Rainier for a Volunteer Vacation!

The Washington Trails Association, one of our key partners, has just released its schedule of "Volunteer Vacations" for this summer, and three of them are at Mount Rainier! These are really exciting opportunities to get out into the backcountry and make and make a difference with trail construction projects. All three are focused on repairing some of the lingering scars from the November 2006 floods, which ripped up trails along the Carbon River and in Glacier Basin.

WTA charges $165 for its Volunteer Vacations, $125 if you're a member, but for that price you get a facilitated wilderness experience. Yes, you'll still set up your own tents and have chores around camp, but there's nothing better than coming back from a day on the trail to a delicious meal cooked by someone else! And when you're done, you'll have a section of trail that you, personally, helped created, and which will be used for generations.

WTA will open registration for its Volunteer Vacations next Monday, on February 8. They fill up rapidly, so make your plans now, and sign up for one of the Mount Rainier trips or one of the many other great opportunities throughout the state!