Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association nominated for national volunteer service award

For twenty years, students from Waseda University in Tokyo have been coming to Mount Rainier National Park to volunteer. Now, the park is nominating the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association for a George Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, in recognition of their work. Nominations for this award are submitted by parks around the country and face stiff competition, but we feel that J-VIPA stands an excellent chance of receiving national recognition for their efforts.

We've written a lot on these blog pages about J-VIPA over the years; but now we'd like to share with you the things that make them the worthy recipient of an award presented by the Director of the National Park Service. Here is exhibit A, a letter of support from our Superintendent, Randy King:

February 25, 2014

In 1994, a group of students from Waseda University in Tokyo came to Mount Rainier National Park to serve as volunteers and built a brand new, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk and viewpoint at Kautz Creek. Twenty years later, the “Japan Volunteers in Parks Association” (JVIPA) has a legacy of more than 23,000 hours of service contributed by nearly 400 students and University staff. Their work on trails, viewpoints, campsites, picnic areas and natural landscapes can be seen all over the park. Many of the Mount Rainier staff have formed life-long friendships with members of the group.

JVIPA is one of the longest and most productive volunteer partnerships in Mount Rainier’s history. As they wrap up their time with the park and move on to other projects, it is impossible to overvalue their influence. Park staff have worked alongside them and hosted them in their homes. They have shared with the park a dedication to the mission of the National Park Service, improving facilities for today’s visitors, and restoring natural and cultural resources for future generations.

It would take many pages to list all of the things JVIPA accomplished over the past two decades, but I would just mention a few highlights. A few years ago, group members built an ADA-accessible trailhead at Paradise, dramatically improving access for visitors with mobility challenges to one of the park’s most beautiful wildflower meadows. The previous year, JVIPA arranged for the donation and construction of a $70,000 “Bio Toilet” at Cougar Rock Campground to demonstrate sustainable design. Hidden inside the structure are the signatures of the Japanese students who built it. Some projects have taken many years: construction of a trail at Round Pass, for example, and the rehabilitation of a viewpoint at Paradise. Many students have chosen to return multiple years at significant personal expense to see these projects through to completion.

Last summer, two dozen students, many of them alumni of earlier programs, a few now with children of their own, gathered for the last time at Mount Rainier. As they have always done, they stayed with host families (park employees and community members in Ashford and Eatonville), commuting daily to the park. They combined educational and recreational activities with hard work, including the construction of ten solid, historic-style picnic tables for our Longmire Stewardship Campground—tables that will be used by volunteers, school groups, tribal members and other park partners for decades to come.

Over the years, our partnership with JVIPA has led to other exchanges as well. Our education program has profited from an active (and ongoing) collaboration with teachers in Japan. Park managers and advocates have come to the U.S. from Japan, and the park has participated in conferences there in return. I had the great privilege of addressing such a group myself a few years ago, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Volunteers-in-Parks program was established by Director George Hartzog as a means for including in the stewardship of the National Parks those for whom the parks were created. It is a tribute to George Hartzog’s legacy that these stewards include several hundred members of the International community who have donated twenty years of service and good will at Mount Rainier National Park through the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association. We are grateful for their hard work, and I am honored to recommend them for the George Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service.


Randy King
Mount Rainier National Park 

Submitted along with Superintendent King's letter, here is the official nomination text. I've taken the liberty of inserting a few photos from J-VIPA projects over the years.

Brief Summary of Exceptional Accomplishments:

J-VIPA volunteers build picnic tables in the
Longmire Volunteer Campground in 2013
During the summer of 2013, 24 students from Waseda University in Tokyo came to Mount Rainier to participate in a project organized by the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association (J-VIPA). This year’s team contributed 384 hours to the park, including landscaping and grounds maintenance around the park’s Marine Memorial at Round Pass and construction of ten picnic tables built in the style of the historic Columbia Conservation Corps. Two children of J-VIPA members also participated in these projects.

This year’s volunteer effort marks the final year of a 20-year partnership with J-VIPA that began in 1994. Since that time, a total of 386 individual program participants have contributed 23,040 hours of voluntary service to the park, improving park facilities and the park’s natural and cultural resources (see details below). Some students have returned multiple years, traveling to the U.S. at their own expense for up to three weeks of volunteer service and staying with host families in communities around the park. The J-VIPA program is one of the largest and most enduring international volunteer partnerships in the National Park Service.

After 20 years, the J-VIPA program is retiring its partnership with Mount Rainier to focus on volunteer efforts closer to home, especially in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in 2011. We seek to recognize them not only for their work in 2013, but for twenty years of sustained effort that has had a profound and positive effect on the park, its visitors, and its staff.

Magnitude of Work: What was the extent of the work accomplished? What made the work, project, contribution, or program exceptional? Was the program well-managed and efficient? In what ways did the nominee demonstrate creativity or originality?

A J-VIPA volunteer works on restoring a storm-damaged
campsite in the Ohanapecosh Campground in 2012
Every year, our program managers have set challenging goals for the J-VIPA volunteers, and every year they have risen to the challenge and met or exceeded expectations. J-VIPA volunteers have contributed 23,040 hours of service over the years.

Visitors can see J-VIPA’s contributions to Mount Rainier in almost every part of the National Park. J-VIPA volunteers planted, weeded, and repotted plants in the park’s greenhouse. They removed invasive species along the Westside Road and planted native species at Paradise. They built an accessible boardwalk and viewpoint at Kautz Creek in 1994, and rebuilt it in 2005 after it was damaged by flooding. They built historic-style picnic tables at the Longmire Stewardship Campground in 2013. In 2008 J-VIPA members helped build and dedicate a prototype composting toilet at Cougar Rock Campground, donated by Groundwork Mishima, an environmental organization in Japan. They improved the popular Nisqually Vista viewpoint at Paradise in 2000, and in 2009 built a paved, wheelchair-accessible trailhead for the Skyline Trail behind the Jackson Visitor Center. Over the years they rehabilitated and rebuilt picnic sites at Paradise and campsites at Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, and White River in response to long-term use and storm damage, and built, improved, and maintained miles of trail all over the park.

The managers of the J-VIPA program, notably its director, Hiro Yamaguchi, have spent twenty years creating a highly successful program that runs smoothly and efficiently despite the significant challenges inherent to an international program. Every year, Hiro works with the staff of Mount Rainier National Park to organize volunteer projects, satisfy visa requirements, and arrange host families. He has built a program that creatively combines service work with educational and recreational field trips, potlucks, and other opportunities for the students to learn about the Unite States. Over the past two decades, 386 students have participated in the program, some of them multiple times, including 24 in 2013.

J-VIPA is exceptional as a model for long-term international volunteer service. I know of no other program in the National Park Service that has maintained such a high level of participation over such a long period of time.

Meeting the Mission: How has the volunteer, group, or program improved conditions for the park facilities or operations, resources and/or visitors? How did the nominee support the NPS mission?

In 2009, J-VIPA crew members built a new ADA-accessible
trailhead at Paradise that bypasses these steps
This year’s students contributed much-needed landscaping and general maintenance to a memorial marker along the park’s Westside Road, and constructed ten historic-style picnic tables for our volunteer campground. As described in greater detail in the previous section, this year’s efforts are merely the latest in twenty years of sustained service, which have improved visitor facilities throughout the park, including trails, boardwalks, picnic areas, campgrounds, and viewpoints. They’ve restored and rehabilitated both historic and natural landscapes scarred by time, flooding, and human activity.

It is safe to say that a high percentage of our visitors make use of facilities built or maintained by the J-VIPA program – whether it’s stopping at the popular Kautz Creek viewpoint built in 1994, or camping at Longmire or Ohanapecosh in sites restored in 2012 and 2013, or enjoying picnic areas, trails, or natural landscapes constructed or rehabilitated over the twenty years of our partnership.

Challenges: Describe any challenges the nominee may have faced.

J-VIPA members in traditional costumes pose with park
staff and host families at their farewell party in 2007

Hiro Yamaguchi and his staff have worked with program managers at Mount Rainier National Park to coordinate and organize three-week volunteer projects for teams of up to two dozen students every year for twenty years. They’ve come up with new projects every year that make significant contributions to the park and its visitors, and they’ve also built educational and recreational activities into each program.

In addition, any international program inherently involves additional challenges. Hiro has worked patiently with the U.S. State Department and the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs to comply with ever-changing standards for obtaining international visas. He’s coordinated dozens of flights between Tokyo and Seattle, moving hundreds of student volunteers back and forth across the Pacific and then on to host families and daily work sites.

Mount Rainier’s staff has changed frequently over the years, so J-VIPA’s managers have worked with a long series of Superintendents, supervisors, and volunteer coordinates to keep the program running. And because Mount Rainier doesn’t have enough housing within the park for groups of up to two dozen volunteers, Hiro and his staff have arranged for park employees and community members to host students in their homes, in the process enhancing opportunities for cross-cultural experience and education for everyone involved.

Partnerships: How did the project or program build partnerships or boost public interest? Please explain.

The BioToilet at Cougar Rock
Campground is inscribed with the
signatures of the J-VIPA members
who helped build it in 2008
Mount Rainier National Park’s partnership with the J-VIPA program is unique in the number of international volunteers and volunteer hours that it has generated over a sustained 20-year period. The program has also inspired numerous additional partnerships over the years, including the following:
  • Over the winter of 2002-2003, Mount Rainier’s Superintendent and Chief of Interpretation were invited to Japan to participate in a conference discussing issues facing national parks in both countries. The participants in this conference included two agencies (Japan’s Ministry of Environment and New Zealand’s Department of Conservation), two conservation organizations (Fujisan Club and Washington’s National Park Fund), and a university (Tokyo’s Waseda University).
  • During the summer of 2003, several members of Tokyo’s Fujisan Club visited Mount Rainier. The group is dedicated to protecting the natural areas surrounding Mount Fuji (which was designated a “sister mountain” to Mount Rainier all the way back in 1936). Over a period of several days, the visiting Fujisan members explored Mount Rainier’s trails, visited its facilities, and met with its managers to discuss common issues of resource protection, visitor service, and volunteerism.
  • From time to time, J-VIPA volunteers have stayed on or arrived early to serve as individual volunteers at Mount Rainier. In 2007, for example, Tamaki Yasuoka spent three weeks working with the park’s interpretation and education programs.
  • In 2008, Groundwork Mishima, a Japanese environmental organization, donated a prototype “BioToilet” to Mount Rainier to demonstrate sustainable park management practices. The high-tech bathroom, still in use at Cougar Rock Campground, operates with almost no maintenance or effluent.
  • Mount Rainier’s education program spent several years working with teachers in Japan to develop curricula that could be used in both Japan and the U.S. to teach students about volcanoes by comparing and contrasting the geology and cultural significance of Mount Rainier and Mount Fuji. The project culminated in a visit to the U.S. by six Japanese educators in 2010, and a trip to Japan by our staff in 2012, to share and compare and resources and training. (See
  • This spring—in March 2014—15 people will fly to Japan for a week-long cultural exchange, staying with host families and participating in two days of volunteer service at a site near Mount Fuji. The group is made up of members of Mount Rainier’s staff and surrounding community (some as young as age 13) who have worked with J-VIPA students during its 20 years here, and represents an opportunity for us to return the favor, in a very small way, for the many years of service the program’s members have donated to us. Planning for this trip has been going on between staff at Mount Rainier and the Ministry of Environment in Japan since 2012.
  • While J-VIPA has been working with us at Mount Rainier, they have also been increasingly active in volunteer efforts back home in Japan. This work accelerated and took on new urgency following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. J-VIPA students make expeditions (sometimes weekly) to communities hard-hit by the natural disaster, helping to rebuild homes and trail systems in coastal towns and parks.

After twenty years of service, J-VIPA is now wrapping up its partnership with Mount Rainier National Park and applying the lessons learned to build a vital volunteer program at home. Our own park, volunteer program, and community have all been enriched beyond measure, and it is for this reason that we nominate the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association for the 2013 Hartzog Volunteer Group Award.

Learn more about the Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, including last year's recipients of the award, on the National Park Service website.

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