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Reader Participation Day: Are you a VIP (Volunteer in the Parks)?

Danny in the Smokies

The author as a volunteer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (taken by a visitor). A volunteer staffing the desk in Manassas National Battlefield Park. Photo by Danny Bernstein.

Volunteers in the Park (VIP) are an integral part of the visitor experience in national parks. They do a variety of jobs, including staffing the desk at the visitor center, roving the backcountry, participating in scientific studies and doing interpretive programs.
I am sure that many Traveler readers are NPS volunteers. Some volunteer every week, while others are involved in one intense experience.

Do you volunteer in a National Park or did you volunteer in the past? Why do you volunteer in a Park? What does it do for you? 
Which park are you in and what do you do? If you wear a uniform, can you describe it? What are some of the more humorous inquiries you've had from park visitors?

On the other side, what experiences, good or bad, have you had with NPS volunteers?


We volunteered at Lake Ranger Station (Yellowstone NP) in experience of our lives.  The rangers were awesome.  My husband and I were afforded opportunities we would never have had as a regular visitor to the park.  I got to go out on a private tour of the lake with "Ranger Rick" and other volunteers.  My husband, a fly-fisherman, got to go out on the boat to help with the netting of lake trout in an effort to rid the lake of them and to save the cutthroat.  It was a lot of very hard work, and the people that do it are so dedicated.  He also got to go out with the volcanologist another day and watch as they measured the pressure at the bottom and also look for new fissures, hot springs etc. 
Some of our duties were to advise people going into the back country for camping and hiking of the dangers, including watching a film prior to their receiving a pass.  After listening to the film it was funny to watch their reactions to the possibility of bear attacks.  So many changed their minds....
We wore a tan ranger shirt  and a ranger cap and we were awarded a volunteer pin.  They also gave us housing in the Lake area.  We would love to go back and do more volunteering - someday if we are lucky.  Not sure which rangers are still there, but would love to give a shout-out to Margie & Rick Fey, Boone, Alice Siebecker and all the others there.  They made us feel part of the team and always so welcome and thankful we were there...I have nothing negative to say. 
We are headed out there in Sept.  hoping to see some of them then.
:) Connie & Jay High

Danny: I was a VIP in Yosemite National Park to week-long natural resource restoration trips in four separate years, and I was a VIP "Grafitti Buster" in Mesa Verde National Park to remove grafitti scratched into rocks along park trails and scenic overlooks. I volunteered to give something back to these public lands that I cherish, and because I could--I mean, because the opportunity was presented and I was physically able to do the work. Volunteering allows me to express my sense of stewardship toward public lands. In my case, my Yosemite volunteer experiences led me to change careers and now I work for educational nonprofit cooperating associations that promote stewardship of public lands. Yup, that VIP experience was THAT impactful.
One of the most humorous experiences we had on the Yosemite work crews was trying to assure park visitors that we were NOT prison work crews; a tough message especially when we were in the midst of some back-breaking effort like moving a giant log or digging out a huge rock. And then there was the time one of us asked the NPS crew leader to explain how the Pulaski got it's name...not that we really wanted to know, we just wanted to see how long we could delay the end of our work break. We got a good long lecture, and a good long break!

While single I volunteered at Joshua Tree NP, Devils Tower and Canyon de Chelly NMs recently.  I think it was fantastic.  I had to quit and beg out of another VIP at Great Basin when I had an eye problem and required surgery.  Now it seems that is not going to be a problem and I am hoping that my new wife and I can get back to being VIPs someplace soon, perhaps next year.  VIP is the best kept non-secret in the country.

Danny--After a 31-year career as an employee of the NPS, I returned for two summers to serve as a VIP at the Museum of the National Park Ranger at Norris Junction in Yellowstone. The museum,at the height of the season, has about 300 visitors a day. The VIP actually has time to talk to the visitors and discuss the issues facing Yellowstone or the NPS. What was really fun was dealing with the kids who came in to the museum. I always recruited a couple of them to help me take down and fold the American flag that flies outside the museum.

One afternoon, the last family in museum was from France. The father was the only one who spoke English. The young daughter and son did not. I asked the father if the kids would like to help me take down the flag. When the question was put the the children, they both responded with an enthusiastic "oui". I told the father that the kids had to be careful not to let the flag hit the ground. As I lowered it, you would have thought they were taking care of the Mona Lisa. They carefully caught the flag, kept it off the ground and carried it into the museum. I then explained to the father that I was going to teach them how to properly fold an American flag. It took us two times to get it right, but I could tell that they were very proud when I told the father that they had done a good job. He then said something to me that i will always remember, "They will never forget this for the rest of their lives."


When were you there, Rick? I believe I met you at the Museum of the National Park Ranger on our last trip through.

Very cool, Rick!  I've had very similar experiences with the youth and adults of this country and others on Mule Rides into the Grand Canyon.  It really fills you up to help facilitate experiences that mean so much to individuals.  Of course, the Canyon is the real star here!  I'm just smart enough to stay out of the way:).  
Rock On, Rick,

I worked with Honors students from 8 different colleges and universities doing trail maintenance in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in May 2011. This was part of thecooperative Partners in the Parks project between the National Collegiate Honors Council and National Park Service.  NPS Volunteer Trails coordinator, Christine Hoyer is the best! 

Rick B--

I was there in mid-summer of both 2008 and 2009.


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