Friday, March 28, 2014

J-VIPA chosen for Pacific West region's Outstanding Volunteer Service Award as it hosts visitors from Mount Rainier

J-VIPA members and their families reunite with their
Mount Rainier hosts in Tokyo, Japan
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of nominating the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association (J-VIPA) to receive a George Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service, in recognition of twenty years of partnership with Mount Rainier National Park. I have just learned that J-VIPA was selected as this year's winner for the Pacific West region of the National Park Service in the "group" category, and will be our nominee for the national award! The national award winner will be announced in May.

The news comes, coincidentally, just as I have returned from my own first visit to Japan, where I spent a week with members of J-VIPA, along with my 13-year-old son and twelve others who have served as host families to J-VIPA students here at Mount Rainier over the years. (We called it the "Dream Tour" because we've been dreaming of doing this ever since our partnership started two decades ago!) We toured sights in and around Tokyo and Mt. Fuji, including a wide variety of historical, cultural, and natural wonders that recently led to the designation of Mt. Fuji as a World Heritage Site. We stayed with two different host families, one in Tokyo, the other in Fujikawaguchiko, and visited the Fujisan Club (a local environmental advocacy group) and Oarachi Elementary School, with which Mount Rainier National Park has had an educational exchange for the past several years. We were welcomed with open arms every place we went.

Our group of 14 included current park employees like myself, and people who hosted students in the past and have since retired or moved on to work at other national parks. A highlight of our trip was a reunion attended by almost fifty of the 386 people who've served at Mount Rainier over the past twenty years.

While this was not technically a work trip (no government money was involved and we all traveled on personal leave time), it was clear that we represented Mount Rainier and the National Park Service. A procession of community and education leaders connected with our group to welcome us to Japan, and we exchanged gifts that represented our respective mountains. (Mount Rainier's partnership with Mt. Fuji began way back in 1935 with the exchange of rocks from the summit of our two volcanoes. Rainier's rock is displayed prominently in the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center, while the rock from Mt. Fuji can be seen in the lobby of our Park Headquarters.) I gave a short presentation on Mount Rainier at Oarachi Elementary School, and we were treated to presentations on Mount Fuji by some of the students. As a school project, the students will be sending us some of their favorite photos of Fuji, and we will reply with photos from Mount Rainier.

Volunteers work on a cleanup project at the Fujisan Club
headquarters in Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi, Japan.
Our agenda had included two afternoons of volunteer work, but plans got rearranged at the last minute due to heavy spring snow that made the planned work location (Fifth Station) inaccessible -- something that I, as a volunteer coordinator myself, could readily identify with! Instead, we put in an hour of work cleaning up debris and shoveling snow at a building that had collapsed under the weight of the snow, and spent some time writing up feedback for park managers about facilities and interpretive materials and how they could be improved for international visitors like ourselves.

I also had an opportunity to chat for about an hour with Mio Konishi, an "Active Ranger" (as opposed to one who does paperwork!) at Saiko Lake National Park. They have a very small and underfunded staff, and she's keenly interested in starting a volunteer program and wanted my advice. We talked about the importance of finding good projects with good crew leaders, ways of connecting with appropriate volunteers and volunteer groups, and contingency plans in case of emergencies. Our group, of course, also wanted to come back and volunteer for her!

She also asked me if I could look over a new website they've put together to try to consolidate good information about Mt. Fuji, especially for potential climbers -- much like our own official website. They want the site to be clear, comprehensive, and easy to use by people all over the world. I accepted the assignment and told her that I was therefore her first volunteer! You can help too -- if you'd like to contribute your own feedback, just visit the site at and e-mail your comments to me at and I'll pass them along.

One of the most impressive parts of our visit was seeing first-hand the profound effect that participating in the J-VIPA program has had on its participants -- and their families. We met with students who were here for the first time last summer, and others who participated in the first program 21 years ago, and some who came back multiple times over the years. The common thread we heard again and again was how much the experience changed their lives in positive ways. They developed a new awareness of the natural world, the value of community service, an openness to international partnerships, and of course strong and life-long friendships. Many of the older students now have families of their own, and it's clear that those values are being passed on to the next generation. That's also happening through the Sister Mountain education project at Oarachi, where almost every student made a point of telling us how much they want to come visit Mount Rainier someday.

This program has planted some very good seeds, and their roots are going deep and growing strong. As one of our group members remarked at the reunion, we've formed a chain that will not break, and just keeps getting longer.

The penultimate evening of our trip, I sat next to program founder Hiro Yamaguchi and reflected on the program as we watched the sun set on Mt. Fuji. J-VIPA has concluded their volunteer partnership with Mount Rainier for now, but the friendships remain. The program is looking for other places to plant seeds -- maybe at another national park, or in another country besides the United States. They're also increasingly active in volunteer service at home in Japan. The program will continue to grow and blossom, and the world is a better place because of it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Longmire Campground Projects - Summer 2014

As posted last fall, the Volunteer Program received a $9,500 grant from Washington's National Park Fund and a $10,000 grant from Keep America Beautiful to enhance the historic Longmire Campground for volunteers and other groups. JVIPA built 10 picnic tables in August, but our plans to build more in October were put off by the notorious government shutdown. This spring, we plan to build twenty more tables and install a yet-to-be-determined number of new fire grates. In addition, we've located the historic group fire ring for the campground and are making plans to relocate and rebuild it with volunteer help. Watch the blog and newsletter for announcements of these projects and their dates! As well as offering provisions for camping space to VIP and educational groups, the Park is talking with tribal members about opportunities to use the campground occasionally, here in the landscape with which they have such deep cultural ties.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Eva Meassick Retires

A Park Volunteer since 1987, Eva Meassick has announced her retirement. Eva and her husband Joe conducted wilderness patrols on the east side as well as frontcountry patrols out of Sunrise until Joe passed away in 2002. The Meassicks also staffed Sunrise, assisting visitors in many capacities, including issuing permits, providing information and offering roadside assistance. They also made winter ski patrols from the north boundary to Chinook Pass, as well as assisting in other volunteer projects and SARs.

In 2003, Eva received the Superintendent's Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2008, she was invited to Washington, D.C. to receive the George B. Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service. Eva and Joe were cited for their cheerful demeanors and exceptional stewardship of the Park as well as the ability to handle difficult situations.

Upon her retirement, Eva Meassick has a total of 12,496 hours of volunteer service on record. We would again like to thank her for her amazing contribution of time and service.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rediscovered trail sign documents 1925 Boy Scout volunteer project

...and one of those Boy Scouts, apparently, was Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard! Read all about it on The News Tribune's website:

I'll try to track down a photo of the sign to share with you all.

The Boy Scouts continue to be significant volunteer partners, 89 years later. Last summer, 66 Scouts contributed 433 hours of volunteer service at Mount Rainier.

Friday, March 7, 2014

RAVEN's Return

No, we aren't talking about big black birds filling the sky. We're talking about the return of Mount Rainier National Park's Roadside Assistance Volunteers (RAVEN for short) after the program's absence in 2013 due to lack of funding. A $10,000 grant from Washington's National Park Fund will permit us to hire two volunteers and obtain supplies, training, and vehicles.

The RAVEN program operates from June through August, assisting visitors who have locked themselves out of their vehicles or who are having car trouble. RAVEN volunteers also provide traffic control during emergency operations and during times of heavy traffic congestion. Typically, RAVEN volunteers work 6-7 days per week, primarily at Longmire, Paradise and Cougar Rock Campground. We hope to hire our RAVEN volunteers this coming week!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Litter pickers needed!

As part of the Volunteer Program's contract with the Washington State Dept. of Transportation, we have agreed to coordinate a litter patrol between mileposts 2 and 4 on State Route 706 during the month of April in recognition of Earth Day. The area to be policed includes the Park's Tahoma Woods frontage. An enormous amount of litter has accumulated over the winter, and we need your help to tidy up! If you are capable of walking at least one mile and are willing to devote approximately three hours to this public service project rain or shine, we have ten spots available. Sign up soon! The date is Saturday, April 26, hours 10-1. Gloves, "long-armed grabbers" and a short training session will be provided. To sign up, contact Volunteer Coordinator Crow Vecchio at no later than April 20.

Youth Heritage Summit - Summer 2014

The 2014 Youth Heritage Project is a partnership between the National Park Service, the Wing Luke Museum (a NPS Affiliated Area), the Washington Trust, and the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. This summer, as part of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Initiative, a youth summit will be held in Seattle. This four day program runs from July 9 through July 12, and will allow forty students to experience and learn about heritage preservation and stewardship first hand.

The project works to achieve four primary objectives: 1) to connect youth and teachers to historic places and landscapes; 2) to engage students in historic preservation and conservation activities; 3) to expand tools to support teachers’ educational efforts around the built and natural environment; 4) to excite the next generation of advocates and stewards of our natural and historic resources.

The location and study topics for YHP change annually: in 2014, YHP will take place primarily in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District (C-ID), with excursions to nearby Port Gamble and Bainbridge Island to visit additional sites related to the history of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the Pacific Northwest. The program will address several historic topics including immigration, working and making a life in a new country, maintaining cultural roots, incarceration during World War II, and the importance of preserving cultural and heritage resources that tell these stories. Planned program sites include Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service Building, the Panama Hotel and Nidoto Nai Yoni Memorial on Bainbridge Island.

Any high school age student may apply. Full scholarships covering lodging, meals, programming, and travel during YHP activities will be awarded to all accepted applicants. Participants are responsible for their own travel to and from downtown Seattle, but additional scholarship funds may be available for travel assistance.

Please visit Discover Washington: Youth Heritage Project for more information or to apply. Applications may be submitted electronically or by mail, and the deadline is April 18, 2014.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mount Rainier among top 11 National Parks to volunteer!

USA Today published a story today about volunteer jobs in the national parks... and mentioned Mount Rainier as an example!

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington): Thirteen volunteer opportunities ranging from campground hosts to working with a butterfly project (June 1-Sept.15).

Read the whole story here.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Student Conservation Association's community program nominated for national partnership award

An SCA Community Crew poses with Congressman Dave
Reichert (far left, in black) on the Glacier Basin Trail in 2010
Mount Rainier National Park has nominated the Seattle office of the Student Conservation Association for a "Director's Partnership Award," recognizing 30 years of youth outreach through its Community Crew program, including 20 years at Mount Rainier.

Since 1984, the community program has engaged Seattle-area youth in local conservation activities. In 1994, the program began bringing crews to Mount Rainier for 15-day leadership projects, mostly building and repairing trails. Over the past two decades more than 750 young people have contributed more than 50,000 hours of service at the park.

In 2012, a new partnership with Joint Base Lewis-McChord added military families to those served by the community program. Last summer almost half of Mount Rainier's Community Crew members were from JBLM.

If the award is approved, it will be presented to SCA's Seattle office by the Director of the National Park Service, Jon Jarvis.

The full text of the nomination follows. I've added some photos of SCA crews in action over the last several years.


A 2013 crew repairs a section of the Trail of the Shadows
Thirty years ago, in 1984, the Seattle office of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) launched an initia­tive to reach out to community youth, especially those in culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods, and to create opportunities for them to participate in conservation leadership in and around Seattle. Today the program serves almost 100 high school-age students every year, and has expanded to include youth from nearby Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM). Students participate during the school year in after-school and weekend projects, mostly in their own neighborhoods building trails and restoring parks, water­fronts, and urban landscapes, then join summer crews that spend two to six weeks working onsite in settings like Mount Rainier National Park. They learn about their environment through their conservation service, and through field trips and camping expeditions, exploring green jobs and career opportunities, gaining skills, and learning ways to give back to their community.

SCA first brought Community Crews to Mount Rainier National Park in 1994, and since 2000 has fielded an average of three 15-day crews per year. Participants have constructed, rebuilt, repaired, and maintained dozens of miles of trail: creating tread, installing water bars, constructing retaining walls, building bridges, clearing brush, laying gravel, planting and transplanting native species, and digging out hundreds of stumps and boulders. After Mount Rainier’s floods in 2006, Community Crews almost single-handedly rebuilt almost four miles of the Wonderland Trail above Longmire and helped reconstruct the Glacier Basin Trail.

Even more important than the program’s construction statistics, SCA’s Community Crews have introduced generations of students – and often their families and peers – to a lifetime of stewardship. Many graduates of the program go on to serve on SCA national crews, as SCA interns in positions around the country, and most significantly, as seasonal and permanent employees with the National Park Service and other agencies.

Since 1984, SCA has introduced over 750 students to conservation leadership at Mount Rainier National Park. Over the past decade alone those students have contributed 29,600 hours of service at the park. This investment in the park’s natural, cultural, and human resources will pay dividends for generations to come.

National Significance

Crew members work at Longmire in 2013
Even as the Student Conservation Association celebrates 30 years of Community Conservation in Seattle, its national influence continues to spread. SCA now has community programs in 16 cities around the country. SCA has expanded the cultural diversity of its participants through recruitment programs and partnerships with dozens of community organizations, and this in turn has brought welcome diversity into the ranks of the National Park Service, where over 40% of the students SCA introduces to NPS positions identify themselves as ethnically diverse.

Today’s SCA Conservation Crew members are tomorrow’s Park Rangers, and SCA continues to innovate to open doors to help make that happen. Programs like SCA’s National Park Service Academy seek to bridge the gap between community outreach and national service. New outreach to military families further expands SCA’s national influence. Almost half of SCA’s Mount Rainier’s crew members in 2013 came from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and will take their experiences with them as their families move to new postings all over the world.

A very specific example of SCA’s national significance will be present at the Community Program’s 30th Anniversary celebration in April: Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, whose parents served as crew leaders in Mount Rainier National Park in 1970-1971, will articulate the impact that visiting those crews had on form­ing his environmental ethic.


Community Crew members (in blue) work with the
Washington Trails Association on a section of
the Skyline Trail at Paradise in 2012
In the ever-changing world of the federal government, 30 years is a long run. Through growing and shrink­ing budgets, evolving rules for contracting, funding, and partnerships, and shifting national priorities, SCA’s Seattle office has adapted to provide consistently high quality crews and leadership. A recent initia­tive to reach out to military families has already been mentioned. Three other challenges are also worth describing.

First, in November 2006, 18 inches of rain fell in 36 hours in Mount Rainier National Park. The resulting floods washed out roads, trails, and campgrounds throughout the park. Within a month, Jay Satz, Regional Vice President of the Seattle Office of SCA, met with the park’s Superintendent to propose a new level of partnership, which would bring together park employees, conservation groups, Community Crews, and public volunteers to rebuild the park’s infrastructure. The logistics of coordinating 3500 volunteers over two years were staggering, yet SCA pulled it off and in the process helped double Mount Rainier’s level of volunteer participation. Community Crews played a key role in getting the work done, and a special Mount Rainier Recovery Corps helped organize and lead public volunteers in trail repair, landscape restoration, and campground reconstruction.

The second challenge is less specific but more far-reaching. With a limited budget to support the volunteer program, Mount Rainier National Park has never been able to guarantee long-term funding of our partnership with SCA’s Community Crews. Instead, every year involves fundraising, grant writing, and gathering of support from whatever quarter it can be found to piece together the program, often at the last minute. And yet the program has survived for over 20 years without a break. SCA’s Seattle staff has worked tirelessly to ensure survival of our Community Crews, cobbling together National Park Service funding with support from grants, donations, corporate sponsorships, and partnerships. We dream of a day when funding is guaranteed for multiple years, but in the meantime, we couldn’t be in better hands.

Third, SCA’s commitment to youth outreach must be singled out as second to none. Long-term success by such programs depends on providing young people with not just a single transformative experience, but a continuum including a second, and a third, each building on the last to culminate in employment or, at least, a lifetime commitment to conservation. No partner understands this better than SCA, and they have achieved great success in following up with Conservation Crew members to lead them to the next step in the process, both through their own programs and through partners like the North Cascades Institute and eventually the National Park Service. The National Park Service Academy is a recent example of such innovative youth outreach.

NPS Benefits

Superintendent Randy King checks in with a crew
member working in Stevens Canyon in 2011
In order for the National Park Service to fully realize its mission, it must achieve the full support and participation of the American people. SCA’s Community Crews, and their outreach to culturally and economically diverse youth, are invaluable partners with the National Park Service in reaching that goal. Young people who served on Community Crews at Mount Rainier 30 years ago are today career employees at parks around the country. This summer’s crew members from Seattle and JBLM will, thirty years from now, be serving in positions of leadership at Manzanar and Gettysburg and Yosemite. Others will be community leaders, supporting conservation and stewardship in neighborhoods from Anchorage to Miami.

Many of them will trace their roots back to Seattle, and to fifteen days spent on a Community Crew at Mount Rainier National Park directed by the Student Conservation Association. No other partner has done more to help us achieve this vision, and it is for this reason that we nominate the Community Crew program of the Student Conservation Association in Seattle for the Director’s Partnership Award.

Crew members take a photo break on
National Public Lands Day in 2008