"When a VIP agrees to share his talents, skills and interests with the National Park Service, he is paying us one of the highest compliments possible by offering a most valued possession - his time."
George B. Hartzog, Jr.
Director, National Park Service,
In 1970, the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program started with a few hundred volunteers. Today, more than 246,000 VIPs donate their time, skills, and talents to the National Park Service every year. The George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service recognize the exemplary contributions of these very important people. Interested in volunteering? Find out how to get involved!
Vinh contributed more than 1,000 hours to the park last year and was a driving force behind many projects that directly benefit park visitors. He staffs the visitor center. He is a Billy Goat Trail steward, helping visitors navigate one of the most popular and spectacular trails in the region. As a member of the park's bike patrol, twice each week he covers a 34-mile section of the canal towpath, checking conditions, assisting visitors, and updating bulletin boards. He also helps with the park's Bike Loaner Program which provides free bikes for visitor use. He is a member of the crew of the park's reproduction canal boat where he works with all facets of the boat's operation, including taking care of the mules that pull the boat, operating the period lift lock and gates, and steering the boat. He is also the chief organizer of the volunteer boat maintenance team which identifies and addresses the maintenance needs of the boat.
In 2015, Mark volunteered almost 300 hours. He also served as the mentor for three other high school students who contributed another combined 600 hours. Mark and the other high school volunteers routinely staffed the park's visitor center on weekends and assisted with numerous interpretive programs and special events.
Mark's most meaningful contribution last year was the creation of a four-minute, bilingual (English and Spanish) children's video about the park. Mark wrote the script, cast, acted in, and directed the video. The video creatively recants the internationally significant history of the Chamizal border dispute between the United States and Mexico and its ultimate peaceful resolution. In a story format appropriate for children, the video provides the opportunity for the park's young visitors to grasp a complex history of dispute and diplomacy.
In April 1942, when Saburo was just seven-years old, he and his family were uprooted from their farm in the San Fernando Valley and incarcerated at the Manzanar Internment Camp. For three years and seven months, the Sasakis—Family #3831—were among more than 11,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by their own government during World War II. Based solely on their Japanese ancestry, and without Due Process, they were exiled to Manzanar and lived in a camp encircled by barbed wire and guard towers.
For the past 12 years, Saburo and his wife Ann have travelled more than 2,200 miles to Mazanar to share his story and the park's history. From April to June, Saburo presents interpretive and educational programs for up to 1,500 park visitors. As a former incarceree, Saburo is able to connect visitors of all ages to the site and its stories in deeply personal ways. Ann staffs the visitor center and has helped with dozens of major projects for the library, museum archives, oral history, and photo collections. Together they have donated more than 3,000 hours of service to the park.
In 2015, the Building Trades class consisted of 24 Tri-Valley High School students. They volunteered a total of 3,552 hours and built two seasonal housing cabins for Denali. Since its inception in 1998, the Building Trades classes from Tri-Valley School have built multiple park structures and replaced more than 20 old seasonal housing cabins.
The Building Trades class is a partnership between the park and the local school district. In addition to providing students with job skills, Building Trades teaches practical applications for geometry, math, physics, and language arts. The park supplies building materials, tools, and a maintenance supervisor and funds one-half of a teacher's salary.
Although the work is performed outdoors, two hours a day in temperatures that can sink as low as 45 degrees below zero, the Building Trades class is the most popular class in school and inspired a similar program another high school in Alaska.
The Bike Patrol has led to an increase in both visitor ridership and safety during the 41 times each year that the Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motor vehicles. Every Wednesday and Saturday from May through September, the popular road is open only to bicyclists and walkers from sunrise to 10:00 AM, providing an opportunity to enjoy the scenic road at a slower pace.
Patrol members are a strong presence on the 11-mile road. They take turns roving by bike and manning designated stations in an effort to assist with traffic management issues, advise of hazards, respond to accidents, serve as first responders, administer first aid, make bike repairs, and manage wildlife encounters.
Due to the diligence and dedication of the bike patrol, the number of participants enjoying the biweekly rides has increased yet the number of accidents has decreased. In the last two years, 40,214 cyclists took advantage of the car–free roadway. In that time, there were 20 accidents with seven requiring transport to a medical facility. Compared to the two years just prior to the establishment of the bike patrol in 2010, this is 30-pecent increase in the number of bikers and a 51-percent reduction in the total number of bike accidents with a 50-percent decrease in the number of those requiring transport.
The park's volunteer program plays an integral role helping the park connect with urban youth, restore habitat, facilitate community engagement, and work with partners. In 2015, the park increased the number of volunteers from the previous year by 34-percent to 8,629 VIPs. Those VIPs contributed 32,060 hours, which was a 9-perent increase over 2014.
Last year, the park's volunteer program initiated a gathering of more than two dozen land managers and volunteer coordinators to coordinate efforts to improve river habitat. The meeting resulted in new partnerships and a growing network of support. One successful result comes from the increased effort to engage youth. More than 300 volunteers devoted 3,000 hours to education programs for 11,000 urban youth on riverboats, canoes, and along the shore about the history, science, and recreational opportunities of the Mississippi River. In turn, 3,300 of those youth became volunteers and collected native seeds, started plant nurseries, made seed bombs for hard to reach places along the river, and labeled storm drains for public awareness as part of the river rehab program.
Other park volunteers conducted citizen science projects, collecting data about birds, dragonflies, otters, Monarch butterflies, cottonwoods, and water quality. VIPs also engaged tens of thousands of visitors at the park visitor center, though the Amtrak Trails and Rails Program, at the Minnesota State Fair, and during biking, fishing, and canoeing programs.
After his retirement, George Hartzog and his wife Helen remembered the VIP program with a generous donation to the National Park Foundation. This fund has been used to support awards that honor the efforts of exceptional volunteers, groups, and park VIP programs.