Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Winter Volunteer Opportunities and Winter Operations Training

As the snow accumulates at Paradise, I have begun receiving e-mails from Meadow Rovers asking about options for winter volunteering. While such opportunities are more limited than they are in the summer months, they are not non-existent, and plans have been developing behind the scenes for winter operations training and supervision. Here’s a quick summary of what’s on the agenda:

Nordic Patrol training, December 2010
photo by Phil Hertzog
Nordic Patrol, Interpretation, and Snow Roving
There are three main options for winter volunteering, depending on your skills, interests, and experience. Nordic Patrol, AKA Ski Patrol, is a partnership between Mount Rainier National Park and the Washington Ski Touring Club (WSTC). Its members patrol the routes above Paradise on skis, coordinated by the park’s division of Visitor and Resource Protection. They provide both preventative and responsive search and rescue, and monitor the ski routes for potential danger. Patrol members should be physically fit and comfortable on skis. To participate, contact WSTC through their website at http://www.wstc.org.

Winter Interpreters, by contrast, work primarily out of the Visitor Center. They assist visitor center staff at the information desk on a regular basis, filling vital slots in our schedule. They are trained to provide informal interpretation and answer questions, and also help with snowshoe walks, usually by serving as a "sweeper" at the back of the line to keep the group together and assist anyone who falls behind. These positions are limited to a few people with previous experience, and all such slots are filled for this year. If you’re interested in participating in the future, stop by the Visitor Center and chat with our staff to let us know!

John McCarthy, Snow Rover
Photo by Ed Hunds
Our third group of volunteers are Snow Rovers, who are roughly analogous to summer Meadow Rovers. But whereas the primary duty of Meadow Rovers is to protect fragile subalpine meadows, the primary job of Snow Rovers is to promote visitor safety. Snow Rovers patrol areas close to the trailheads – including the trailheads and parking lots themselves – assisting visitors with information about where to go and how to get there and back safely. Like the Meadow Rover program, the Snow Rover program is supervised by Mount Rainier’s volunteer program manager, Kevin Bacher, and his staff. Maureen McLean will be on duty on Saturdays from December 14 through January 4, and after that, a winter intern (yet to be hired) will take over the role.

It is important to stress that Nordic Patrol, Winter Interpreters, Snow Rovers, and Meadow Rovers are each different volunteer positions, and each requires a separate volunteer agreement. If you are already signed up as a Meadow Rover, for example, you are not automatically also a Snow Rover. The duties and priorities are different, and if you have registered as a Meadow Rover or were a Snow Rover last year but haven’t yet signed paperwork as a Snow Rover this year, you are not authorized to do the work. If you’re interested in participating, contact us and make arrangements to sign up.

How to Be a Snow Rover
If you want to serve with Nordic Patrol, you’ll work directly with the Washington Ski Touring Club. If you’re a Winter Interpreter, then you’ve already been contacted and scheduled by our interpretive staff. If you’re interested in becoming a Snow Rover, then you’ll be working with me. Here is a quick summary of how that works:
  1. Sign up. As mentioned above, if you have not signed a volunteer agreement specifically for Snow Roving this year, you must do so before venturing out on the snow. Snow Roving is different than Meadow Roving.
  2. Attend training. If possible, join us on Saturday, December 14 for our winter volunteer orientation. See below for details.
  3. Choose when to come and where to go. Our greatest need is on weekends at Paradise, especially when the weather is good, followed by Fridays. Weekday roving is less important, but welcomed in the Longmire area.
  4. Let us know you’re coming. Snow Rovers MUST check in ahead of time so that we can make sure enough radios and other resources are available for you. Let us know if you plan to ride our employee shuttle, which is an option if space is available and you plan on being here all day. The shuttle leaves Longmire at 9:00 am on weekends and holidays, weather permitting, and departs Paradise at 4:45 pm. Also let us know if you’d like to spend the night in the volunteer apartment at Park Headquarters, which has two bedrooms and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Since multiple people will be supervising the program over the course of the winter, the best way to RSVP is by writing to the Meadow Rover mailbox at MORA_Meadow_Rovers@nps.gov. Please don’t wait until the day before to RSVP, and please give us at least a two-day lead when requesting the apartment.
  5. Call ahead to check conditions. Current road and weather information is available by calling 360-569-2211 and listening to the recorded message. This includes an estimate on when (or if) the road to Paradise will open, and whether chains or 4WD will be required. Note that state law requires you to carry tire chains in your vehicle during the winter, even if current road conditions do not require putting them on.
  6. Check in when you get here. Snow Rovers must check in in person when they arrive, either at the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise (open weekends and holidays) or at the Longmire Information Center (open seven days a week). Our rangers will give you current information on weather, avalanche, and trail conditions, and may ask you to help with specific tasks such as resetting the poles marking trails, or checking on trail conditions in a certain area.
  7. Check out a radio. Safety is your highest priority – for both you and the visitors we serve! No one should be out on the trail without a radio and knowledge of how to use it, especially in the winter (in addition to the rest of the 10 Essentials).
  8. Be safe!
  9. Check back in when you return. Check your radio back in, report anything relevant, and log your hours and visitor contacts in the volunteer notebook. If the notebook is not available, send your hours via e-mail to MORA_Meadow_Rovers@nps.gov when you get home.

Winter Operations Training
If possible, plan to join us on Saturday, December 14, 2013 from 9:00-4:00 for Winter Operations Training. We’ll meet at the Community Building at Longmire and, weather permitting, move up to Paradise in the afternoon. Details of the agenda are still being worked out, but topics will include safety, logistics, and emergency response. This training is highly recommended if you plan to participate as either a Snow Rover or Winter Interpreter, and is also an excellent opportunity to update your paperwork if necessary.

5-Minute Presentations Are Needed! We will begin the Winter Operations Training with a series of brief presentation on winter safety topics, such as the 10 Essentials, preventing falls, snow shoveling, hypothermia, dehydration, frostbite, winter driving, cold and flu prevention, etc. If you would like to put together a 5-minute presentation on one of these topics, or something similar, please let us know when you RSVP, and we’ll put you into the schedule!

Please RSVP to MORA_Meadow_Rovers@nps.gov so that we’re sure to have plenty of chairs and snacks. Use the same e-mail address if you have questions. See you there, and we look forward to working with you this winter!

Monday, November 25, 2013

2013 Volunteer Activity and Expense Report

Here, at last, is this year's Annual Activity and Expense Report for the volunteer program. As always, I will follow this soon with an analysis of where changes occurred between last year and this year, and why. From the outset, though, two things jump out: first, our total number of volunteer hours is down dramatically (from 74,615 last year to 62,736 this year); and second, our total number of volunteers remained almost steady (1,804 last year, 1,784 this year). A quick look at the numbers reveals that most of the changes are reflective of fewer full-time volunteer and intern positions. We had fewer full-time volunteers in the Paradise Visitor Center and Climber Information Center; fewer Emergency Roadside Assistance ("Raven") volunteers; fewer Historic Architecture positions; and so forth. Even if just a few positions are lost in each division, they carry with them thousands of hours of volunteer time. We lost a few thousand hours of volunteer time at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center alone.

Most of these positions seem to have been lost for the same reasons that our numbers of paid staff have declined: volunteers are inexpensive but not free, incurring either housing, per diem, and vehicle costs, or commitments to the Student Conservation Association and other partners, and with reduced budgets, we've had reduced capacity. It is also likely that under Sequestration whole programs have shrunk, volunteers and all.

The silver lining is that, clearly, individual interest in volunteering has NOT declined. While we've had fewer full-time volunteers parkwide, our number of itinerant volunteers has remained roughly the same, in spite of the shrinkage of some programs. As revegetation opportunities have declined, citizen science opportunities have increased, for example, and our total number of volunteers this year is the second-highest ever, just slightly behind last year's number.

I will work on bringing these statistics and conclusions into sharper focus over the next few weeks, and will report further when I have more information. For now, here are the raw data!

Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Volunteers In Parks
Annual Activity and Expense Report
Mount Rainier National Park
Report Date: Nov 21, 2013
Fiscal Year: 2013

Volunteer Coordinator and Park Information

Total Volunteers: 1,784
Alpha Code: MORA
VIP Coordinator: Kevin Bacher
VIP Coordinator Phone: 360-569-2211
Coordinator Email: kevin_bacher@nps.gov

Volunteer hours by category:

Administration: 441.00
Campground Host: 2,088.00
Cultural Resource Management: 7,832.00
General Management: 152.00
Interpretation: 12,922.50
Maintenance: 1,578.25
Natural Resource Management: 9,650.75
Protection/Operations/Law Enforcement: 27,481.75
Training: 590.00
[Total: 62,736.25]

Program costs by category:

Housing: $ 7,116.00
Meals: $ 2,237.00
Recognition/Award: $ 0.00
Supplies: $ 32,807.00
Training: $ 0.00
Transportation: $ 2,602.00
Uniforms: $ 4,372.00
[Note: Does not include spending on task agreements, including SCA.]

Volunteer Program Highlight

Mount Rainier's volunteer program suffered significantly under Sequestration in two ways: with less funding available, fewer long-term volunteer positions were filled (with accompanying per diem, housing, and vehicle costs); and several thousand hours of time were lost that had been associated with the now-closed Ohanapecosh Visitor Center. Still, the total number of volunteers remained close to previous years, indicating that while the park was less able to support full-time residential positions, interest in volunteering remained undiminished. In fact, volunteer opportunities continued to diversify, with now three different programs related to Citizen Science, for example. Another highlight of the year was the expansion of our partnership with the Student Conservation Association, through a Youth Partnerships Program and National Park Foundation grant, which included work with three Community Crews, two National Park Academy Interns, and one traditional intern, providing a "ladder" of youth volunteer experiences. Half of the Community Crew members were recruited from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, expanding our outreach to the military community. Finally, Mount Rainier bids fond farewell to the Japan Volunteer in Parks Association (J-VIPA), "retiring" from Mount Rainier after 20 years and 23,040 hours of service. Their contributions to Mount Rainier National Park will benefit us long into the future, and we wish them well with their new volunteer efforts closer to home in Japan.


How many people at the park require VIP Program Mgmt Training: 15

Optional Information Regarding Housing VIPS and Campground Hosts

Number of Campground Hosts: 8
Number of VIPs housed in Permanent Structures: 59
Number of VIPs housed in Trailers: 0

Trailer Pads for Volunteers: 6

Other Information

Number of SCAs: 38
SCA Hours: 7175.5
Number of Artists in Parks: 0
Artist in Parks Hours: 0
Number of International VIPs: 24
International VIPS Hours: 384
Number of Volunteer Senior Ranger Corps: 0
Volunteer Senior Ranger Corps Hours: 0
Number of Boy Scouts: 66
Boy Scout Hours: 433
Number of Girl Scouts: 0
Girl Scout Hours: 0

Mountain Rescue assists with double Search and Rescue

This incident summary from last week presents another excellent opportunity to recognize and thank the important contribution of volunteers in our Search and Rescue efforts. Over the past year (Fiscal Year 2013), Mountain Rescue units contributed more than a thousand hours of volunteer time at Mount Rainier. The previous year -- a year with an exceptionally high number of such events -- the number was almost twice that. I've said this many times, but it applies even more vitally when lives are at risk: there is no way we could serve our visitors or the natural and cultural resources we protect as well as we do, without the help of volunteers. Thank you, Mountain Rescue!

November 21-22, 2013

The rescue of an injured skier in the Panoramic Point area above Paradise overnight was made more complex when word came to rangers that a snowboarder was reported lost in the same area. At 3 pm, word was received that a 36 year old skier from Packwood, WA, had fallen down a 200 ft. icefield and had severely broken his knee. By the time rangers were able to reach and assess the subject, waning daylight precluded the safe use of a helicopter as a means of extricating the 36 year old skier. As Ranger staff began setting up a technical raising of the skier, it became apparent that to conduct this operation safely, additional outside resources would be needed. Six members of Tacoma Mountain Rescue, and six members of Olympic Mountain Rescue, all trained volunteers, responded from various areas around Puget Sound, to help conduct the rescue. In the meantime, a tent and sleeping bags were sent up to the site to protect the skier from the elements. Although skies were clear and calm overnight, temperatures were in the 20’s throughout the ordeal. The laborious task of carefully raising the subject, and sledding him down to Paradise under darkness took most of the night.

In the meantime, at approx. 9 pm while the rescue was underway, the park received a report that a 36 year old solo snowboarder from Edmonds, WA was lost. He had texted his girlfriend on his cellphone to report that he was snowboarding in the Pebble Creek area above Paradise, was trying to make his way back to the parking lot, but because of darkness did not know his way back. This area is on a ridge with steep icefields and gullies along the way. The stretch of freezing weather that had occurred created a hard, slippery ice crust throughout the area, and a slip or fall could be deadly. Attempts to reach snowboarder by phone after the initial text message were unsuccessful. The Incident Commander of the skier rescue, Park Ranger Kevin Ross, re-directed several of the rescue volunteers to begin a hasty search in the area of Pebble Creek. At approx. 1220 am, searchers heard a voice responding to their calling out of the subject’s name. The snowboarder was located in cold, but good condition near Pebble Creek. He was safely walked out to Paradise, and did not suffer any injuries. All parties were safely taken off the mountain between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning. The skier was taken by ambulance to the hospital in Puyallup, WA.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Secretary Jewell Launches Ambitious Initiative to Expand Opportunities for Youth on Nation’s Public Lands

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today joined with local business, health, education, non-profit and conservation leaders in San Francisco to launch a national campaign to expand opportunities for youth on public lands. Today’s kick-off comes on the heels of Secretary Jewell’s major speech last week, in which she outlined conservation priorities for Interior, including an emphasis on fostering the next generation of environmental stewards, scientists, and natural resource managers.

“There is a growing disconnect between young people and the great outdoors – and it’s a gap that Interior has the power to help bridge,” said Secretary Jewell. “Through public-private partnerships and in conjunction with all levels of government, Interior will expand its efforts to pass on our nation’s rich conservation legacy and to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors.”

In the morning, Jewell hosted a roundtable discussion with local leaders in San Francisco to outline her vision and to hear what efforts are underway in the area to boost youth engagement and employment. Following the roundtable, Jewell participated in a service project with local youth conservation corps members at Crissy Field in Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

“San Francisco is really a model for what can be accomplished when it comes to leveraging public-private partnerships to connect young people to the great outdoors – whether it’s in the classroom, through volunteer work, or with a job working on public lands,” Jewell added. “Through this initiative, we hope to expand that success around the country, so that young people and veterans can not only accomplish meaningful work and gain important professional skills, but they can also build a lifelong connection to the outdoors.”  

The goals of Interior’s youth initiative for the next four years include: 

  • Play: Interior will develop or enhance outdoor recreation partnerships in a total of 50 cities over the next four years to create new, systemic opportunities for outdoor play for more than 10 million young people.
  • Learn: Provide educational opportunities to at least 10 million of the nation’s K-12 student population annually. In addition to welcoming students into nature’s classroom, we are developing and strengthening new online education resources, to reach more students.
  • Serve: Engage 1 million volunteers annually on public lands, effectively tripling the numbers we have now. We know that many more people are interested in volunteering at national parks, wildlife refuges and public lands, but there are often insufficient staff resources to coordinate. In order to achieve the volunteer goal, we will place a renewed emphasis on volunteer coordination and management. [Emphasis added]
  • Work: To develop the next generation of lifelong conservation stewards and ensure our own skilled and diverse workforce pipeline, Interior will provide 100,000 work & training opportunities to young people within our bureaus and through public-private partnerships. As part of this effort, we aim to raise an additional $20 million to support the youth work and training opportunities.

Youth engagement has been a signature part of President Obama’s conservation agenda, and today’s initiative will build upon the ongoing partnership with USDA and other members of the federal family through the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). The 21CSC, launched as part of the America’s Great Outdoors program, is a national collaborative effort to put America’s youth and veterans to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America’s natural and cultural resources. The 21CSC engages young Americans aged 15-25, and veterans up to age 35. 

An initial group of 91 organizations has been recognized for their commitment to the principles that the 21CSC embodies. All partner organizations have agreed to offer job and training opportunities to young people and veterans in America’s great outdoors.


Monday, November 4, 2013

End of Season!

Today, Sunday November 2nd, is the official end of Meadow Roving for 2013.  It is a good day to end as the meadows are covered in snow.  Winter has definitely set foot on the mountain. 

For those of you who would like to continue as Snow Rovers, there are several changes coming with that program this winter.  For more information, contact Kevin Bacher (Kevin_Bacher@nps.gov). or stay tuned to this blog for training information.

I wish to thank each of you for all your help this season and look forward to working with you next year.  Stay tuned to this blog for information on our training sessions next June.  My government e-mail will be closed while I am off the rolls so I will not be able to communicate with you. 

Maureen McLean
Coordinator MORA Meadow Rovers