Monday, November 24, 2014

Declining numbers, but a rising road

It's nice when the news is always positive and the numbers are always rising, but in the real world that doesn't always happen.

That's the short version of an e-mail interview I did last week with Jeff Mayor at The News Tribune, talking about our volunteer statistics for Fiscal Year 2014, the results of which were published in Sunday's paper. Our number of volunteers and our number of volunteer hours are both down over the previous two years, and as a government agency we report those numbers transparently. I proposed some possible reasons for the declines -- budget cuts limiting supervisory capacity, a waning sense of urgency as the 2006 floods recede into history -- and more answers will likely come from a deeper dive into the statistics when I get a chance to do so later this winter. It's hard to put a positive spin on smaller numbers, and to do so would be disingenuous.

Still, I'm not by nature a pessimist. I see great and positive things happening with our volunteer program, and great potential for its future. A 5% decline in our number of volunteers still means we maintained 95%, and those individuals had a tremendously positive impact and, by and large, extremely positive experiences. I could list specific examples at length. Our MeadoWatch and other Citizen Science programs have exploded in popularity. Hundreds of volunteers continue to help maintain our trails, with the help of partners like Washington Trails Association. The Student Conservation Association brought teams of youth volunteers to the park for their 20th year, and received a Director's Award for their partnership. Our Emergency Roadside Assistance ("Raven") program saved innumerable vacations by retrieving keys locked in cars and pumping up flat tires. Starbucks and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts (oh my!) spread out across the landscape to do good works. And on and on.

I'm really excited about next summer's volunteer program. We've learned, over the past few years of thinner budgets, where the weak links are in our park programs and how to shore them up. We're making progress toward finding funding sources, and strategically applying what we have, to be as effective as possible with our efforts. Volunteers remain key to our success. Quoting Jeff Mayor quoting me: "As budgets have grown leaner, volunteers are an increasingly vital part of our operation," Bacher said. "They’ve always been invaluable as partners with us in protecting the park and serving its visitors, and now more than ever."

So, no, I'm not discouraged. Onward and upward!

- Kevin Bacher
Volunteer Program Manager


Robert said...

I could give you another reason for declining hours -- in my own case I went from volunteering a few days every other week for a number of years, winter and summer, to almost zero hours last year. The reason being the changing of the meadow rover and snow rover programs from mostly roving and in winter, shoveling, to parking lot duty. I am happy to be roving and doing physical labor as it keeps me active, but the requirements to "stay close to the JVC" and to do no labor have taken the fun out of the programs.

Kevin said...

I really appreciate your feedback, Robert. This is something we've heard from multiple people. The focus on sticking near the VC has arisen because that's where the need is greatest, and limitations on project duties are due to the safety concern of not being able to properly supervise such work. That said, there are ways for us, as supervisors of the Meadow Rover program, to address both concerns on behalf of volunteers like yourself. We've tried a "tag team" approach to trailhead duty, for example -- asking volunteers to spend an hour at the trailhead at the beginning or end of their duty, or taking the place of someone at the trailhead and then being replaced by the next rover. We're also looking at hiring some full-time volunteers to coordinate shoveling and trail marking during the melt-out period, which would improve our capacity to have Meadow Rovers -- those who wish to help with this -- to do so in a controlled and safe manner.

If there are other ways that we can address these or other concerns, we welcome the input. First and foremost, we need satisfy the needs of the park; but we also want to do so in such a way that the work is rewarding and motivating for volunteers.