Friday, August 19, 2016

A big THANK YOU to Mount Rainier's awesome volunteers!

Sunrise Meadow Rover Picnic
Photo by Glenn Baldwin
Hello everyone! Ranger Kevin here with a story to share:

I spent last weekend (Friday and Saturday) out in the park, preparing and hosting the annual volunteer picnics; then hiked the Skyline Trail at Paradise with my family on Monday. As manager of Mount Rainier's volunteer program, my job has me in the office in front of a computer and telephone too much of the time, so I value these opportunities to actually get out in the field and see things happening. I encountered many volunteers on these three days, and want to take a moment to say how thoroughly impressed I am by the work you all are doing!

We're at peak season right now, and the park is overflowing with people. The pressures have never been greater, on our park and on the people who manage it. And yet, the volunteers I encountered invariably bore smiles and enthusiasm for their work.

At Longmire, I chatted with a campground host who was so excited about his job that he was already making plans to recruit students at his local college for volunteer work. At Sunrise, I found the parking lot so efficiently organized that it looked like the cars had been parked by a valet service, even in places where there were no painted lines marking the parking spaces, and two volunteers directing traffic in the hot sun. They were grateful for a cold diet soda from my cooler, but had no complaints about taking on duties that would tempt a paid employee to surliness, and dozens of visitors benefited from their efforts, whether they were aware of it or not. At Paradise, my family and I encountered several Meadow Rovers as we made the loop of the Skyline Trail, all of whom greeted us and the other visitors around us with big smiles and helpful information, in spite of all the other visitors they were dealing with who ignored the "stay on trails" signs to cross fragile meadows in search of snow or better wildflower pictures.

This weekend was not unique. Last week I served as the Public Information Officer for a search and rescue effort in the park, and took reports of Mountain Rescue volunteers who responded on short notice from Olympia, Seattle, and Everett to help with the (ultimately successful) search. I received a copy of a comment form filled out by a visitor who was grateful for the help provided by our Emergency Roadside Assistance volunteers. Another note expressed gratitude for the help provided by volunteers to an injured hiker on the Silver Forest Trail at Sunrise. A trail maintenance volunteer passed on to me how frequently passing visitors thanked her group for the work they were doing to keep the trails in good condition.

And these are only the higher profile ways that volunteers help out, the ones that generate visitor comments and feedback. Other volunteers work behind the scenes, less obvious but no less important in their contributions to the National Park Service: surveying plants and animals, curating the park's historical artifacts, removing invasive species, repairing erosion damage from winter floods, maintaining campgrounds and campsites, and dozens of other tasks that ensure that Mount Rainier remains as pristine as possible for future generations as well as our own.

When visitors' cars line up for more than a mile at the park's entrance station, and it seems like you've asked the 50th person in the past hour to stop trampling the meadows, it can be difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task. And yet, imagine what the park would be like without the help of our volunteers! The meadows would have little protection from well-meaning visitors who don't understand how sensitive they are to being trampled, and would go unrepaired by overworked revegetation crews. The trails would deteriorate faster than our paid crews could keep up with repairing them. Parking at Sunrise would be haphazard and dozens of families would not be able to find anywhere to park. Lost hikers would take critically long to find. Park managers would lack important data on the abundance and distribution of park species. Campers would have no one to talk to when they needed assistance in the middle of the night, and visitors who locked their keys in their cars or ran out of gas would go hours before patrol rangers could respond.

And on and on. No matter how busy the park seems, and how much there remains to do, we couldn't possibly keep the park looking as good as it does, nor assist our visitors as well as we do, without our volunteers. Volunteers make a difference!

And so, I want to recognize each and every one of you who makes some part of our mission your own, to preserve and protect Mount Rainier for the enjoyment of present and future generations. Whether you come up only once for a few hours, or return day after day for years on end, every one of you makes a difference. I, and my family hiking the trails with me, and my grandchildren and great grandchildren yet to come, are all grateful.

Thank you.

Kevin Bacher
Volunteer and Outreach Program Manager
Mount Rainier National Park

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