Friday, February 24, 2012

Looking for Cougar Rock Campground Hosts

Have you been toying with the idea of applying for a Campground Host position at Mount Rainier National Park? Now is the time! Our Campground Manager, Debbie Hannevig, is currently looking for candidates to fill that position between Memorial Day and Columbus Day. If you're not able to commit for the entire summer, that's O.K. too; we often work with one individual or couple at the beginning of the season and someone else for the second half. Do note, however, that maximum RV length is 30 feet, due to the small spaces in our historic campground.

You can find the vacancy announcement and online application link here, along with details on how to find more information about the position. We hope to see you here this summer!

Mission: Outdoors

This past weekend, Friday the 17th through Sunday the 19th, I had the privilege of attending a Sierra Club listening session for their program to engage military families in outdoor activities. I attended as a representative of the National Park Service and, specifically, the Pacific West Region's volunteer program. The goal was to identify barriers in working with veterans and to develop strategies for overcoming them.

We had 20 people in attendance, at Islandwood, a residential environmental education facility on Bainbridge Island -- 5 from Sierra Club, 14 from various military connections, and me. The military attendees included active military from Joint Base Lewis McChord, and veterans who are now working with other veterans in some capacity like the VA or community-based organizations. The leader of the Sierra Club effort was Stacy Bare, a veteran who now works to get other veterans connected to outdoor programs through the Sierra Club, and who has a great personal story of finding healing and purpose through his own experiences hiking and climbing. Another of the Sierra Club people was an excellent facilitator who walked us through discussion topics like what barriers exist in working with military veterans and how to overcome them. And there was a lot of social interaction built in, too, which created a great comradery in the group. I made some friends, and I have some great contacts for making further connections with local military.

Sierra Club is also tentatively planning a weekend trip for veterans to Mystic Lake here in Mount Rainier National Park this summer, as one of the outcomes of our meeting.

The meeting was interesting for me, too, because a lot of the issues of engaging with the military apply in similar ways to outreach efforts in other communities as well, such as under-represented ethnic and economic groups.

Some key insights:
  • Involve veterans in the outreach to veterans. Nothing breaks down barriers like having someone there who shares your experience.
  • Consider mentorships. Don't just make the connection and then forget about it; actively check in on people.
  • Plan a positive first experience that sets a welcoming tone.
  • Establish a relationship with "two-way value." Don't just provide a service, engage the veterans in contributing as well.
  • Find common ground and a common sense of purpose. This can help break down perceived barriers between groups (e.g. liberal tree huggers vs conservative gun nuts) and replace them with a common cause (e.g. working together to protect the natural places we both value).
  • Create networks with other places, so that as military people move from place to place, they are welcomed in their new locations too.
  • Be realistic about what you're offering. "We're not a therapy organization," Stacy said of the Sierra Club -- but they can offer outings in a therapeutic wilderness setting.
  • Be sensitive to the issues some veterans face. Physical and psychological traumas like traumatic brain injury and PTSD can create challenges. At the same time, recognize than many vets have no such issues, and those that do are committed to overcoming them.
  • Be mission oriented. That's what attracts many people to the military, and also to groups like Sierra Club (and NPS). Military people tend to relish a goal-oriented mission and challenge.
The Sierra Club's military outreach programs are just one aspect of a groundswell of such programs that are starting up all over the country as veterans return from Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They go by all kinds of names -- Post to Parks, Operation Warfighter, Operation Purple, Wounded Warriors, Mission: Outdoors, Veterans Job Corps, and more -- but they have in common a goal of working with veterans in positive ways. The National Park Service has already been identified as a key partner in these efforts, and based on my experience this weekend at Islandwood, I believe that the Sierra Club will, in turn, be a very productive partner for us in accomplishing these goals.

Read more on the Sierra Club's military outreach blog page.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Life and Death on Mount Rainier

Few people realize what an important role volunteers play in Search and Rescue efforts at Mount Rainier National Park. In fact, every time there's a major incident, one that lasts more than the initial few hours, a veritable batallion of volunteer rescuers show up to help. Our own Nordic Patrol volunteers, members of the Washington Ski Touring Club, who patrol the Paradise area on skis every weekend, are almost always some of the first to respond. They're followed by Tacoma Mountain Rescue, Olympia Mountain Rescue, Seattle Mountain Rescue, volunteer bloodhound teams, and more.

Even fewer people know that volunteers are part of an innovative effort by Lead Climbing Ranger Stefan Lofgren to prevent search and rescue events from happening in the first place. These volunteer "PSAR" -- Preventative Search and Rescue -- rangers patrol the upper meadows and lower climbing routes, talking to people on their way up the Mountain, and making sure they have good information about what they're getting into. It often doesn't stop people from walking further into danger -- but when those first signs of trouble come up, they're more likely to think back on the ranger's advice and turn back.

There was a great article in the News Tribune on Sunday about Carrie Tomlinson, our current PSAR volunteer.

For $20 per day, lodging at Longmire and 16 college credits, she spends weekdays at Paradise splitting her time between snowshoes and her desk, answering questions and relaying information, among other duties.... "You have the people who are 'Go big or go home,'" Tomlinson said. "But sometimes it's better to not go big so you can go home."

Read the whole article on the website of The News Tribune. And if this sounds like a great job to you, we hope to hire more PSAR rangers this summer. You can also volunteer with the Washington Ski Touring Club's Nordic Patrol or with a local Mountain Rescue unit!