Volunteering in Washington’s National Parks: Everyone Benefits

By Jill Irwin, guest blogger

Photos courtesy of Emily Dominick, Lesley Blyth and Stacey Long Collins

With recent studies finding health benefits from both volunteering and being in nature, heading to one of our national parks in Washington offers a win-win for both the parks and volunteers. From trail maintenance to wildlife monitoring, the many ways to volunteer in Washington’s national parks are diverse and rewarding.

Just ask some repeat volunteers.

Marmot Monitoring at Olympic National Park

marmot spotted marmot spotted “Volunteering made us feel more involved with what’s going on at the park, an extra connection, and forced us to jump in to something,” says Emily Dominick, who did marmot monitoring at Olympic National Park with her husband Yancy in 2011 and 2014.

After seeing a notice that the park was looking for volunteers to help with the monitoring, Emily and Yancy signed up. “We thought it was a good way to do bigger trips than we had been doing and be outdoors, with the added bonus of doing something to help the park. And the citizen science that went along with it sounded cool. We had a great time, liked Patty (Happe, the park ranger in charge of the volunteers), and learned a lot about the park. It was a cool educational experience.”

franklin marmot franklin marmot“I’m personally proud we made it through the first rigorous backcountry trip in 2011, which involved trail finding and pushing our limits [while Emily was pregnant!]. It was cool in the end to have something to hand in to the park of what we did.”

family selfie family selfieThe second time around, their young son Franklin, born after their first trip, was with them.

“The park works with you to find something you can do and accomplish.” When Emily said they had a toddler, park staff helped them find something they could handle with a small child. Instead of a challenging backcountry trip, they car camped and monitored close to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.

“It was good to bring our son Franklin. It was our first long camping trip with him, and we didn’t know how it would go, but he really liked the campfire and the tent. It was a really great trip and our son will be able to do more this year.”

Trail Maintenance at Mount Rainier National Park

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For Lesley Blyth and Stacey Long Collins, the trail maintenance weekend they organized for Starbucks employees in 2007 has turned into an annual event, with positive ripple effects.

“After we saw pictures of storm damage near Longmire in late 2006, we thought it would be good to pull together a lot of Starbucks folks to make a difference. We wanted to give back to a mountain we all love,” says Lesley. “Rainier is so symbolic of Washington. ‘Our mountain’ is how a lot of people feel about it.”

“We get people who have never been camping, so this weekend introduces them to the whole outdoors experience. One person joined several times then arranged additional trail maintenance events with another organization.”

According to Lesley, “We try and sell it as a weekend trip and encourage people to stay overnight to get to know other employees who they would never get to know otherwise. We average over 20 volunteers each year now, with a high over one weekend of 38.”

“The camaraderie that goes on at camp is just amazing!” says Stacey.

2013 water bars 1 2013 water bars 1Stacey is proud that she’s out there doing good and can see the fruits of their labor. Lesley hiked the Wonderland Trail a couple years ago and found walking on sections of trail that they worked on quite gratifying.

“It’s always cool when people hiking by will stop and chat with you and tell you they appreciate what you’re doing. Sometimes hikers will help a bit, carry gravel or something,” says Stacey.

Pamela Brushing Pamela Brushing

When asked why they organize and do the annual Rainier volunteer weekend, Stacey replies “To give back!” Lesley adds that Starbucks does promote community service heavily.

“We offer ourselves up to the park and rely on them to use us the best way possible,” says Lesley.

Jump on in!

To help fund 2015 programs, check out the priority projects for this year. Learn more about how Washington’s National Park Fund supports volunteerism at the Volunteerism and Stewardship page.

With donor support, WNPF is funding team leaders who have the knowledge, expertise, training abilities, and patience as volunteers take on new tasks. The kind hearts of thousands of volunteers result in significant savings to the parks, year after year.

Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Parks have active, vibrant volunteer programs, and they are growing. Volunteers help in diverse roles, and donors to the fund help in specific, strategic ways. To get involved yourself for a few hours, days, or longer at Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades National Parks, use the links below to learn more about what’s happening in each location:

Olympic National Park | Mount Rainier National Park | North Cascades National Park

Great thanks to Jill Irwin! Check out her beautiful blog, Pacific Northwest Seasons.