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With So Many Volunteers, What's the Future for Rangers?


    Volunteers -- I've heard nearly 4,000 -- have been flooding to Mount Rainier this spring to help the national park recover from last fall's brutal storms. At Mesa Verde, the park won an award because of its volunteer workforce, which picks up trash, designs educational displays, even provides interpretation, long a service held by full-time, professional rangers.
    If you recall, back in February I pointed out how many full-time Park Service employees are not needed
because of the "volunteers in the parks," or VIP, program. And I noted that President Bush would like to have an additional 11,000 VIPs by fiscal 2011.
    Why should anyone bother to study "parks and rec" in college anymore? More and more jobs are going to volunteers as agencies such as the Park Service are squeezed economically by administrations and Congress and often have no choice but to turn to volunteers. To get a better understanding how widespread this practice is becoming, check out this story by Brodie Farquhar.
    Volunteers can and do provide great work in the park system. But how many rangers do we want them to replace?
    Think about it. Between the current administration's drive for more audio tours and more volunteers, rangers are becoming an endangered species. And with the administration's desire to pump more private money into the parks through the National Park Centennial Initiative, how long before the entire system is turned over to private entities, volunteers, and audio files?

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