Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Volunteering: The Heart of America

I was recently sent a link to a blog post from the University of Southern California's School of Social work, which has created what they call an "infographic" detailing a lot of interesting facts about contemporary volunteers: where they live, why they volunteer, and more. Check it out on their website!

A couple of interesting highlights:
  • 64.5 million people over the age of 16 volunteer every year in the United States. (We have quite a few under that age who help at Mount Rainier, too!)
  • Their contributions work out to almost 50 hours per person, and even at minimum wage, they save agencies and non-profits more than $23 billion every year. (We know from our own experience that volunteers, in fact, often contribute far more than minimum wage-quality work, helping with park management plans, conducting science, leading mountain rescues, and designing trail bridges, for example. Independent Sector estimates the actual average value of volunteer time, based on replacement wages and benefits, at $22.55/hr, which brings volunteer contributions up to a whopping $72 billion.)
  • The Northwest has one of the top concentrations of volunteers in the country. Washington state ranks 9th with 34.4% of its citizens volunteering.
  • Top benefits of volunteering include an increased sense of physical well-being, self-esteem, decreased risk of depression, and a sense of purpose.

Gabriela Acosta, Community Manager for the USC program, says "we can only hope that viewers will see the infographic and be inspired to volunteer and give back to their communities."

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Memo to Mother Nature

Dear Mother Nature,

Our volunteer program is doing just fine without the help of another 2006-style flood to motivate us. Thanks anyway,

Mount Rainier National Park


Monday, November 24, 2014

Education program seeks volunteer to help with student correspondence

Do you live within an hour or two of Mount Rainier? Are you looking for a way to help out over the winter months? Do you enjoy correspondence and working with kids?

Then we have a perfect opportunity for you!

Mount Rainier National Park's education program is looking for an individual to help respond to student correspondence. You must be willing to meet at the park's Education Center at 55210 238th Avenue East in Ashford one day per week, and pass a background investigation for use of government computers. Duties will include answering e-mail, writing letters in response to physical correspondence, stuffing envelopes with standard educational packets, and occasionally more complex or creative tasks. For instance, the park frequently receives "Flat Stanleys" in the mail that need to be photographed on site and returned with souvenirs of their visit.

The amount of correspondence varies greatly from week to week. Some weeks the work adds up to only a few hours of effort, while other weeks it may take all day to sort through the whole mail bag. Either way, you'll free up park staff for other duties including leading and planning educational programs. And you'll be dealing with some of the m
ost creative and interesting correspondence the park receives!

If you're interested (or have questions), send a brief resume to Fawn Bauer, Education Program Manager, at Fawn_Bauer (at); call 360-569-6591; or send your own mail to 55210 238th Ave E, Ashford, WA 98304.

===UPDATE 11/25/2014===
Looks like our need is filled at least through the end of the calendar. Feel free to let us know, though, if you're interested in helping in future!

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Celebrating the past and future National Park Service

Continuing the theme in my last post about planning for the future, some of you may have noticed that the Centennial of the National Park Service is coming up. Didn't know that? Well, it's still two (short) years off, but I'm sure you'll hear more and more about it as the date gets closer! The specific date is August 25, 2016, but the entire year will be filled with special events commemorating the birth of an agency, and formal recognition of an idea, that has been replicated since all over the world.

Volunteers will, naturally, be part of the celebration, and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has already made the Centennial part of her goal to engage one million volunteers annually on public lands. We're still waiting for details about what that will look like at parks like Mount Rainier, but it could well take the shape of exciting new volunteer opportunities!

Symbolizing the creative ways that volunteers already help us out at Mount Rainier, here's a photo from this August's "Shadows of the Past" living history program at Longmire. What better way to look forward to the possibilities of the future, than to get a bunch of people to bring alive Mount Rainier's vibrant past? These summer employees and volunteers are holding signs announcing the kickoff of Centennial publicity. Watch for much more in the months to come!

From left: Volunteer Karen "Virinda Longmire" Andrascik; Geologist-in-Parks
volunteer Nora Rose "Niece Joanne" Hencir; Maureen McLean; Dave "James
Longmire" Oleson; Hayley "Fay Fuller" Edmonston; Scott "John Muir"
McLean; Steve "Grenville Allen" Redman; Benjamin "PB Van Trump" Komar;
and Kelsey "Aunt Eleanor" Isom. Photo by Davis "Ashael Curtis" Root.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Climbers raise $140,000 for Mount Rainier National Park!

Now that our reports of volunteer program success and challenges are wrapping up for 2014, we're busy transitioning into planning for 2015! Yesterday I corresponded with CompassUSA about the possibility of working with new international volunteers. My duties this morning included writing a letter of support for a grant to expand some of the fantastic work our MeadoWatch program is doing to gather climate data with the help of citizen scientists. This afternoon, I've been working on nailing down planning meetings with Washington's National Park Fund and REI for a suite of volunteer projects next August.

The last of these deserves special mention, because this same collection of community partners earlier this year raised more than $140,000 for Mount Rainier National Park in the course of four fundraising climbs! Washington's National Park Fund supports projects in all three of Washington's national parks, and a good deal of their support goes to our volunteer program. This year, for instance, special grants paid for a pair of Emergency Roadside Assistance (nicknamed "Raven") volunteers, and the hiring of Maureen McLean to lead that and our popular Meadow Rover program. An estate grant made in 2010 by Raymond and Eleanor Wilson has helped pay for student interns, project supplies and uniforms, volunteer housing, and other essentials for programs all over the park for the last four years.

The fundraising climbs brought together all three of Mount Rainier's primary climbing guide services -- Alpine Ascents International, International Mountain Guides, and Rainier Mountianeering Inc. -- with Microsoft Corporation and Recreational Equipment Inc. You can read all about their experiences, and enjoy beautiful photos and videos, on a blog entry by one of the climbers and the Facebook page of another.

Whatever way you support Mount Rainier and its volunteer program -- through donations, direct participation, or following along on social media -- we appreciate your contributions in 2014, and we look forward to working with you in 2015!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 Annual Activity and Expense Report

Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Volunteers In Parks
Annual Activity and Expense Report
Mount Rainier National Park
Report Date: Nov 13, 2014
Fiscal Year: 2014

Volunteer Coordinator and Park Information

Total Volunteers: 1,693
Alpha Code: MORA
VIP Coordinator: Kevin Bacher
VIP Coordinator Phone: 360-569-2211
Coordinator Email:

Volunteer hours by category:

Administration: 344.00
Campground Host: 2,872.00
Cultural Resource Management: 2,846.00
General Management: 0.00
Interpretation: 14,505.00
Maintenance: 12,628.00
Natural Resource Management: 9,683.00
Protection/Operations/Law Enforcement: 13,031.00
Training: 1,427.00   
[Total: 57,336.00]

Program costs by category:

Housing: $ 13,759.00
Meals: $ 9,820.00
Recognition/Award: $ 0.00
Supplies: $ 3,585.00
Training: $ 0.00
Transportation: $ 5,237.00
Uniforms: $ 1,274.00

Volunteer Program Highlight

Our program thrives with the help of community partnerships. The Washington Trails Association coordinated 375 volunteers who put in 4,794 hours of work on trails. 38 SCA interns, including 30 members of 3 community crews from Seattle and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, contributed 5,236 hours. 18 interns hired through the Geologic Society of America, the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program, and local universities added another 7,372 hours. Many of these partnerships take the form of crew leaders: hired, for example, to recruit, train, and lead community members in citizen science, trail maintenance, meadow patrol, or glacier research. Two of these partners received major awards this year: the Japan Volunteers-in-Parks Association, awarded the PWR Hartzog Award for 20 years of partnership, and the Seattle office of the Student Conservation Association, which received the NPS Director's Award for 20 years bringing youth volunteers to the park. Citizen Science continues to be a growing area of interest. Our amphibian and butterfly survey programs continue to flourish, and participation in the MeadoWatch program has exploded. Even casual visitors are now able to participate in a Cascade Carnivore Survey, or submit geotagged photos for analysis by the MeadoWatch program. These programs succeed through partnerships with North Cascades NP and the University of Washington. Funding for our program this year included grants from Washington's National Park Fund and the National Park Foundation.


How many people at the park require VIP Program Mgmt Training: 20

Optional Information Regarding Housing VIPS and Campground Hosts

Number of Campground Hosts: 8
Number of VIPs housed in Permanent Structures: 35
Number of VIPs housed in Trailers: 11
Trailer Pads for Volunteers: 12

Other Information

Number of SCAs: 38
SCA Hours: 5236
Number of Artists in Parks: 0
Artist in Parks Hours: 0
Number of International VIPs: 0
International VIPS Hours: 0
Number of Volunteer Senior Ranger Corps: 0
Volunteer Senior Ranger Corps Hours: 0
Number of Boy Scouts: 53
Boy Scout Hours: 1605
Number of Girl Scouts: 16
Girl Scout Hours: 113

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Don't pick up the leaverite!

When you see a beautiful flower along the trail,
Ranger Maureen McLean says "leaverite there!"
You never know where our volunteer program will turn up. Why, just this past summer we landed in the pages of the esteemed High Country News, in an opinion piece written by Jourdan Arenson featuring our very own Meadow Rover Manager, Maureen McLean!

An exerpt:

If you love the outdoors for peace and solitude, you’ll hightail it to the backcountry. But if you spend some time with Ranger McLean, you can see the American ideal of forming a more perfect national park come to life before your eyes.

Read the whole story here. And if you'd like to help, never fear: the summer Meadow Rover volunteer program will return next June!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tanmoy Ghosh

For "Throw Back Thursday," here's an old but good set of photos. I just got these this year, or I would certainly have shared them two years ago when they were taken! The photographer is Tanmoy Ghosh, an international volunteer who worked with our wildlife program in the spring of 2012, surveying spotted owls (and, as you'll see in his photos, encountering many other forest residents along the way). The photos (taken between May 16 and June 26) tell a story that is typical of the kinds of internships we offer at Mount Rainier in all kinds of fields, hired through the Student Conservation Association, the Geologic Society of America, universities, or the volunteer program.

Seasonal housing at Longmire

The owl crew in the field

Tanmoy is pictured on the far right

The Natural Resources staff, Summer 2012

Monday, November 3, 2014

Shonna Siegers

Last month I promised you photos of volunteers in action. Soon after, I was derailed by a family emergency that has since run its course... so here once again is a set of photos of a volunteer in action this past summer! This is Shonna Siegers, a "Teacher-Ranger-Teacher," leading a Jr. Ranger program at Ohanapecosh Campground, photographed on July 13, 2014 by park employee Mary Wysong. The "TRT" program has been a popular one at Mount Rainier for years, and provides opportunities for classroom Teachers to become Rangers for the summer before returning to their jobs as Teachers in the fall (Teacher-Ranger-Teacher, get it?). It's a wonderful way to get some new experience, and national parks like ours benefit from the expertise of creative and motivated instructors! Visit our Education Program's "Development Opportunities" page for more information, and to learn about another program for geoscience teachers called "Geo Science Teachers-in-the-Parks."