On one hand, that may seem like a silly question. Why would anyone need an invitation to visit one of the crown jewels of the greatest national park system in the world? How else would you see the Northwest's greatest volcano, its greatest collection of glaciers, its pristine forests and extraordinary meadows?
Yet we all know many people who have lived their whole lives in the shadow of The Mountain and have never visited. For some, it's simply benign neglect. For others, the barriers are cultural, or economic. Driving to the end of the road for a day or two of contemplation, scenery, hiking, and camping just isn't in the range of options for everyone.
The problem may even be getting worse. A recent article in The News Tribune by Jeff Mayor notes that "just over 1.7 million people visited the park in 2009, but that was down 2.01 percent from the 1.73 million visitors in 2008. That decline ran counter to a trend seen across the National Park Service last year, when visitation was up 3 percent." 2009's visitor totals were some of the lowest in decades.
As Mayor points out, "More visitors means more revenue for park projects. It also means a larger pool of supporters who will advocate for the park," and about 60% of those visitors come from the Puget Sound region.
Mayor didn't mention it, but the U.S. population is also growing increasingly diverse, both ethnically and economically. Neither national park visitors nor employees have kept pace with this change. How do we make the parks a place that is both relevant and welcoming to everyone, regardless of background, culture, and economic standing?
Mount Rainier National Park has chosen to invest more and more of its efforts into community outreach: reaching beyond the borders of the park, to take The Mountain to the people and to make them feel welcome when they visit the park. We speak at community gatherings, we participate in community fairs, and we offer special programs for groups that visit the park. This summer, for the second time, we'll offer our "Camping Adventure with My Parents" (CAMP) program, for families of all kinds who have never been camping before and may never have had an opportunity to have such an experience.
It's all relevant to our volunteer program because, ultimately, what better way is there to "connect" with a national park than to give of your time and energy to help protect it, by serving as a volunteer? But the goal, first of all, is simply to bring people in, to make them feel welcome. When we say "this is your park," we want people to feel that that sentiment is entirely inclusive.
Consider joining us to represent our National Park at these events! Help us staff a booth, lead an activity for kids, or talk to people about your experience as a visitor and volunteer at Mount Rainier:
- April 23-25: Enumclaw Spring Fair
The park will have a booth. Stop by and say hi!
- April 24: Seattle Earth Day Project
We'll be volunteering with the Student Conservation Association at the Washington Park Arboretum. Come give us a hand!
- May 1 and June 5: Activity day at the Woodland Park Zoo
We'll be in Seattle talking to people about Mount Rainier and our CAMP program. June 5 is Bear Day!
- May 2: Northwest National Park Family Day
Join us at Seward Park in Seattle, with the National Parks Conservation Association, to talk about all of the great opportunities our national parks provide.
- May 8: Annual Meadow Rover Brunch
Join us at the Tacoma Mountaineers Clubhouse to learn about volunteering at Mount Rainier.
- May 15: Tacoma Outdoor Challenge
We'll be at Point Defiance for Tacoma Metro Parks' first annual program. It's The Amazing Race in Tacoma! We'll be running a camping challenge as part of the program's obstacle course.
- May 15: National Park Family Day
Outreach Ranger Jim Ross will travel to Fort Vancouver National Historical Park in Vancouver, Washington to participate in this annual event.
- May 22, May 29, June 5, and June 12: Camping Adventures orientation days
The centerpiece of our outreach program this summer is our second annual Camping Adventures with My Family program. More about that soon, but meanwhile, check out the new web page and get as excited about it as we are! CAMP participants will choose from one of four orientation dates. May 22 and June 12 will be at the Tacoma Nature Center, while May 29 and June 5 will be at Discovery Park in Seattle.
- June 19: Hidden Jewel Volunteer Day
Join us to help refurbish Camp Long in Seattle, with Seattle Parks and Recreation.
- June 22-24, July 9-11, July 23-25, August 6-8, and August 17-19: Camping Adventures
We'll be camping with five groups of 25 people throughout the summer, and will welcome assistance!
- July 24-25: Tacoma Ethnic Fest
One of the most colorful and interesting festivals of the year!
- September 10-26: Western Washington State Fair
The Puyallup Fair is our largest outreach event. We'll be looking for volunteers to staff three shifts a day for the duration of the Fair--in return for free admission and parking!