Sunday, December 26, 2010

Standing on the shoulders of giants

I was surprised and incredibly humbled, today, mid-way through two weeks of annual leave with my family at Christmas time, to turn to the last page of the News Tribune and find my name among several others listed as "Outdoors Giants of 2010." It's all for coordinating the work of more than 2,000 volunteers this past year.

But none of that would have been possible without the help of so many partners from the community -- the Washington Trails Association, Student Conservation Association, Mount Rainier National Park Associates, Washington's National Park Fund, Discover Your Northwest, Washington Ski Touring Club, Japan Volunteers in Parks Association, Boy Scouts of America, Seattle Parks, Tacoma MetroParks, REI, Boeing, the Backcountry Horsemen, Nisqually and Pathfinder Schools, Evergreen State College, the list goes on and on and on. And of course special thanks must go to my partner this summer, Evan Escamilla from SCA, who as an intern was so instrumental in keeping everything on track and running smoothly.

An none of it would be possible, either, without the help of hundreds of other individual volunteers, too numerous to even begin to name here. Browse through the blog entries from this past year for a small sampling of all the people who actually did the work, building trails, curating photographs, assisting visitors, rebuilding rock walls, surveying amphibians, creating promotional videos, planting native plants and tending them in the greenhouse, again the list goes on and on and on.

These are the true Outdoors Giants of Mount Rainier, and I feel positively Llliputian in comparison. Thank you, everyone, for a great year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gettin' muddy

When you spend your days organizing volunteer projects for others, it's fun, once in a while, to step away from the computer screen and get dirty yourself. Not just help with one of your own projects -- but chip in on a project organized by other people, to which you have no investment other than your own choice to be there.

I had such an opportunity yesterday. And yes, I got dirty, and yes, it was fun!

Crew leaders from the Nisqually
Tribe helped us out
The 4th graders of Eatonville Elementary School arranged to help with native planting on Nisqually Land Trust land in Ohop Valley, just north of town along Mountain Highway. If you've driven Highway 7 recently you'll know the spot, where the road dips down into a narrow, flat-bottomed valley with a meandering stream, then climbs back up past the turnoff to Eatonville. The stream, wandering through a valley filled with mudflow debris from Mount Rainier, was once prime salmon habitat, but had been channelized by farming over the years. Today, the Nisqually River Council, a coalition that includes the Nisqually Tribe, has "re-meandered" the stream, installed engineered log jams, and planted hundreds of native plants with the help of volunteers.

Sheila Wilson explains good
planting techniques
Enter the 4th graders! In November, Sheila Wilson, Program Coordinator for the Nisqually River Education Project, visited classes at Eatonville Elementary to explain the work--why they were doing what they were doing, and what role trees and other ground cover played in improving habitat for fish (creating shade and woody debris, slowing the water and creating pools where trees fall, anchoring the soil and preventing erosion). She prepared the class for what was to come, so when they got out in the field with their boots and gloves they'd know they were making a difference.

The original project date was November 22, which anyone local will remember as the day of the big pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm. My wife had that day off and was set to help, "rain or shine." But the planners hadn't counted on a foot of snow and sub-freezing windchill, so the date was rescheduled to December 15, a date more suitable for my own schedule. Heavy rain over the past week caused the creek to overflow its banks, and it looked initially like we might be planting in more rain, but the morning dawned partly sunny and the weather held throughout the day.

But still, it was muddy. Wet. Soggy. Goopy. Mushy. Sloppy. Perfect for 4th graders! Due to bus schedules we had less than two hours to actually spend out in the valley, learning how to dig holes and plant wild roses, bigleaf maples, alders, Douglas-firs, and several other species. The kids did most of the work themselves, while crew leaders from the Nisqually Tribe roamed around with the rest of us chaperones, helping out wherever needed and making sure the trees were planted with proper care. The kids had a terrific time, and it was clear that the adults did too.

It's a great example of a project that probably could have been done much more quickly and easily by the team of professional planters. But the Tribe elected, instead, to engage local elementary school kids and their parents, to get their feet wet (literally), to plant their own roots in the project along with those of the trees. For all of us who worked in Ohop Valley yesterday, that spot is now "ours," and we will be watching "our" plants grow over the years to come as we drive by. We'll be watching for the salmon to return. When people wonder what on earth is going on down there along the highway, we'll be able to tell them. For the investment of a few hours of time, the Nisqually Land Trust now will have dozens of advocates in the community.

And I'm happy to be one of them!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Volunteer contributions to Recovery Act projects

Every once in a while I get a request for information related to the volunteer program that leads me down a previously unanticipated trail toward some fascinating discoveries. I had such a request this afternoon, from a coworker looking for the amount of contribution volunteers had made toward the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as ARRA, the Recovery Act, or the "Stimulus Bill."

We have had a total of 16 ARRA projects at Mount Rainier, most of which employed people without any volunteer assistance (replacing electrical lines, for example, or building slurry walls along the Nisqually River for flood protection). But two of the projects did include volunteers: the construction of an accessible trailhead at Paradise in 2009, and trail reconstruction at Glacier Basin and Carbon River. Volunteer contributions to the trail projects, especially, have been substantial, and have allowed us to get more done, in less time, and with the partnership of hundreds of members of our community. Here are the numbers I came up with:

ADA Trail Construction at Paradise
Total volunteer hours: 720
Total volunteers: 9
Youth* hours: 710
Youth volunteers: 8

Major partners:
Volunteer value**: $15,012
Japan Volunteers in Parks Association (550 hours, 6 youth)

* "Youth," for these purposes, are volunteers under the age of 25.
**Volunteer value is based on an equivalent rate of $20.85/hour to for salary and benefits, as estimated by the non-partisan group Independent Sector.

Wonderland Trail at Carbon River
Total volunteer hours: 7,041
Total volunteers: 108
Youth hours: 5,664
Youth volunteers: 50
Volunteer value: $146,805
Major partners:
Washington Conservation Corps (5,640 hours, 48 youth)
Washington Trails Association (413 hours, 2 youth*)
Sierra Club (960 hours, no youth)

*Youth numbers for WTA and Sierra Club are estimated.

Glacier Basin Trail
Total volunteer hours: 39,143
Total volunteers: 1,281
Youth hours: 28,052
Youth volunteers: 312
Volunteer value: $816,132 (!)

Major partners:
Washington Trails Association (10,531 hours, 100 youth)
Student Conservation Association (7,822 hours, 63 youth)
Washington Conservation Corps (15,620 hours, 60 youth)
Northwest Youth Corps (2,195 hours, 45 youth)
Boy Scouts of America (450 hours, 32 youth)
Earthcorps (1,512 hours, 21 youth)
Mount Rainier National Park Associates (346 hours, no youth)

Interesting note: The flood repair projects at Carbon River and Glacier Basin used $986 thousand in ARRA funding (for staff, equipment, supplies, etc.). The total value of volunteer contributions to these projects is $963 thousand. We've basically doubled our money with the help of volunteers!

These are fantastic numbers. Thanks, everyone, for all the hard work that went into generating them -- and all the great things that were accomplished with the time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

First summer internship positions now posted on partner websites!

If you're interested in a summer internship at Mount Rainier National Park, now is the time to start applying for positions on the websites of the Student Conservation Association and Geologic Society of America!

"Geoscientist-in-Parks" positions opened today, with an application deadline of February 1, 2011. Fine more information and apply through the Geologic Society's GeoCorps America website. GeoCorps interns are being hired in parks and forests all over the country, including an unprecedented eight positions at Mount Rainier: an Education Specialist, a Geomorphology Technician, and six Interpretation Specialist positions.

Meanwhile, numerous internships have been posted on the Student Conservation Association website, including five (so far) at Mount Rainier. Our "Interpretive Public Recreational Media" internship starts on or about March 1st, while most others begin later in the spring or early summer, including our Volunteer Coordinator, Trails Volunteer Coordinator, Plant Ecology Volunteer Coordinator, and Visitor Services internships. Even more internships have already been requested but have not yet been posted on the SCA website, including a Citizen Science Coordinator, Outdoor Videographer, and Public Safety Management Intern, so check back frequently.

Internships are great ways to get a foot in the door to a career in environmental policy or with a land management agency. They're also great ways to gain experience and skills, try out a possible profession, or just to have a more interesting, fun, and meaningful summer job than the rest of your friends. We hope to see your application this spring and summer!