I'm Shelton Johnson, and I'm a ranger for the National Park Service. When I think of volunteers, I think of faces lit up with excitement, folks working at visitor centers, working on trails, doing their utmost to take care of the place that they feel that they are part owners of. So volunteering is a great way to share a little bit of yourself with the parks that you care about. So think about what you want to do in your National Park, and volunteer!
A volunteer helps with exotic plant removal at Mount Rainier
Every year, hundreds of individuals contribute their enthusiasm and skills to help the National Park Service preserve and protect its natural and cultural resources, and to serve and educate its visitors. Volunteers help in almost every area of the park, from maintaining trails to leading guided hikes. The time commitment for volunteer work varies from one-day projects to recurring projects or full-time work extending over months or years. Both individuals and organized groups are welcome to volunteer, and opportunities are available both for highly skilled professionals and for families with little or no experience in land management.
Consider joining our team! Your contribution of time and energy will help us to protect the magnificent natural and cultural areas entrusted to us, and you'll go home with a sense of pride at having participated in something worthwhile. Mount Rainier is your national park!
Would you like to join a long-term project, working either full-time or intermittently as your schedule allows? Check out the listings on our Long-Term Volunteer Projects page.
Looking for an internship through the Student Conservation Association, the Geologic Society of America, or your college that provides a stipend, housing, and possibly educational credit? Take a look at our list of current Internship Opportunities.
Just want to help out for a day, a weekend, or a week in the middle of your busy schedule? We have many short-term opportunities listed in our volunteer blog. Browse through the recent news, calendar, or volunteer opportunity listings to find a project that meets your interests, skills, and schedule!
Shelton Johnson: America’s National Parks are a uniquely American idea, and some of our most beautiful lands have been set aside “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” In 2009, over 285 million people visited the National Parks; and to keep the parks running smoothly, contractors repaired roads, concessionaires staffed inns and shops, and over 20,000 permanent and seasonal staff managed the parks and their resources. But few people know that in addition to the staff, many parks have a vibrant volunteer community to help manage those vast resources. Washington state’s Mount Rainier is one of those parks.
Ruth Graves: Long ago I started thinking that maybe it would be fun to be a park naturalist, and lo and behold, when I got into, well into retirement, I finally had the opportunity to volunteer as a park interpretive ranger.
Kevin Bacher: Last year we, our volunteers, contributed more than 70,000 hours of service to the park, which is equivalent to hiring an extra hundred and forty seasonal employees. We could never get as much work done without the help of our volunteers, and we could never protect the park and its resources as well, or serve its visitors as well without the help of the volunteers that work in just about every aspect of the park.
Shelton Johnson: In fact, on average, for every park member, there are seven volunteers working in the parks.
In late 2006, two natural disasters struck Mount Rainier. On November 6th and 7th, 18 inches of rain fell in less than 36 hours, more than ten times the usual amount for that time of year. Within hours, the downpour created raging floods. Trails, bridges, and whole campgrounds were completely washed away. Large stretches of roads were obliterated, or buried under hundreds of tons of rubble. A month later, a storm with sustained winds of over 60 miles an hour compounded the damage the park had already suffered. The combined effect of these two events was devastating, preventing people from getting to places in the park which were now too dangerous or had become completely inaccessible. Volunteers played a critical role in the park’s recovery. Their response reflected a public that knows and loves Mount Rainier.
Volunteer: We are very interested in volunteering in the cleanup of Ohanapecosh Campground. Our family has enjoyed camping there for over forty years.
Shelton Johnson: Offers of help poured in from hundreds of people. The sheer number of volunteers was unprecedented.
Randy King: One of the things that we also learned in that early stage was that it takes an organizational structure to actually manage a volunteer program, and you, how do you manage a group of volunteers coming in, so we worked with the Student Conservation Association, Washington Trails Association, and others to provide some of the crew leadership to actually go out and, you know, train people how to do the work and to make sure they can do it safely, so we can accomplish the work and nobody gets hurt.
Shelton Johnson: Once the initial crisis was over, many of those working on the flood recovery effort wanted to continue volunteering, and the park staff looked for new ways to incorporate the skills of these talented and enthusiastic people.
Kevin Bacher: Well, what we want to do now is to build on the connections that we’ve made in the community through the flood recovery and all of the partnerships that we’ve built in the community during the flood recovery effort, and we want to use these partnerships and these connections to make the volunteer program stronger, to provide more opportunities for volunteers, to provide more diverse opportunities for volunteers, and to provide opportunities that will be really, tremendously helpful to the park.
Shelton Johnson: One example of these opportunities was a project to analyze and catalogue the huge collection of photographs that document the development of Mount Rainier National Park.
Jim Miltimore: The photograph project is extremely interesting, lots of historical pictures, some like by Asahel Curtis, you could tell his work right away, photos that were in a world by themselves, you know, whenever one of them came up you’d say oh, this has got to be by Curtis, and his work was so much different from the other photographers, and all of the historical ones going back from, you know, some of them were from before the park was a park, and it was really, really interesting.
Shelton Johnson: People’s impact on the park is only part of the volunteers’ story.
Randy King: And I think, again, the value is not only to the park, in terms of the service that they provide, that we could never replicate in other ways, but I think, I think there’s tremendous benefit for the individual, in terms of that personal connection, being able to give back to a place has been very important to them and remains very important to them as well.
Shelton Johnson: Many volunteers return year after year. So what is it that keeps them coming back?
Ruth Graves: My son told me, and I think it’s a fairly commonly known thing, that if you have a passion, it keeps you young; and so I maybe should pursue this passion of mine, by coming back. So, every year I wonder, and then I’m drawn back. It’s, it’s definitely the high spot of my year.
Volunteers help rebuild a damaged section of the Wonderland Trail
A Special Thank You to Our Partners!
Mount Rainier National Park's volunteer program is assisted by many community partners. These groups help us recruit volunteers and lead projects, work with us to set up special volunteer opportunities and internships, and provide material support through fundraising, financial contributions, equipment, and advocacy. They help us to engage more people in park stewardship, and to accomplish more for the protection of Mount Rainier, than would be possible without their help, and we are grateful for their support. Visit these groups on the World Wide Web to find out how you can help them help Mount Rainier!
In addition, many other community groups, schools, churches, and businesses visit Mount Rainier on a regular basis to participate in volunteer projects. We're happy to set up something for you! Please call Volunteer Program Manager Kevin Bacher at 360-569-6567. We look forward to working with you!
Floyd Schmoe was Mount Rainier's first full-time Park Naturalist. In 1923, he launched the park's "Nature Notes", a series of writings on various park-related topics. There are hundreds of editions of the notes in the park's collection, all of which are accessible through the Mount Rainier History & Culture webpage: