Volunteer Handbook

Group of volunteers in rain gear stand on the trail.

NPS Photo, Kevin Bacher

Program Overview

The National Park System of the United States is comprised of over 400 units including over 83 million acres in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. These areas have been deemed to be of such national significance as to justify special recognition and protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.

By an Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming "as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" and placed it "under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior." The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a world wide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national park or equivelant preserves. The modern system includes areas of historical, cultural, scientific, and ecological importance and strives to preserve them so that they may be enjoyed by future generations.

More on the history of the National Park Service.
Mount Rainier National Park hold many significant resources. From the extensive glaciers found on the Mountain's flanks to the forests that skirt its base, from the geothermal hot springs at Longmire and Ohanapecosh to the alpine meadows filled with beautiful and sometimes rare wild flowers, the ecosystems that exist here are unique. They are also part of a cultural landscape that dates back more than 8,000 years. The mountain holds deep cultural significance for both indigenous populations in the area and the surrounding communities of today. It is our misson to maintain the natural and cultural resources of the park in a way that balances visitor needs and management goals.

Together we preserve the natural and cultural resources in Mount Rainier National Park for future generations. As we facilitate high quality park experiences we promote the park's mission, foster community development, and encourage environmental stewardship.

With integrity, teamwork, pride, and motivation, we demonstrate envornmental leadership and deepen our understanding of the park's ecosystems. We value our diverse range of individual contributions by showing respect and concern for each other and the park.

More on the history of Mount Rainier National Park.
The National Park Service Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program was authorized by Public Law 91-357 enacted in 1970. The primary purpose of the VIP program is to provide a vehicle through which the National Park Service can accept and ulitize voluntary help and services from the public. The major objective of the program is to use this voluntary help in a way that is mutually beneficial to the National Park Service and the volunteer.

Volunteers are accepted from the public without regard to race, creed, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, national origin, or disability.
Mount Rainier volunteers have hearts as big as the mountain. Some come to only work for a day while others serve full or part time over a season, and some donate thousands of hours over many years.

The Mount Rainier VIP program recruits people of all ages and abilities, either as individuals or members of a group. Our aim at Mount Rainier is to use volunteers in such a fashion that we realize mission goals. In addition, we seek to use the Volunteer Program as a tool for broadening citizen understanding and support for the park. Our VIPs support park employees through contributing to projects and assisting visitors. We also aim to provide meaningful service opportunities through which volunteers can gain or refine real jobs skills and connect with the park on a deeper level.

Volunteer Position Descriptions

Mount Rainier has volunteers working in almost every division of the park doing so many different things that it would be impossible to list all our volunteer positions but here is some information about those that are most popular. Check our current volunteer opportunities page to see what positions are accepting applications (not all positions below are currently available).
Season: Summer
Time commitment: 1 day of training and 24 hrs of service per season
Location: Paradise or Sunrise
Type: Individual

Description: Every summer as the alpine meadows at Sunrise and Paradise come to life with species of delicate wildflowers, visitors come by the thousands to witness the display. Our Meadow Rover Volunteers help us educate visitors about the importance of staying on the trails and only taking pictures. This position is suitable for all ages (children must be accompanied by an adult).
Meadow Rover Page
Season: Winter
Time Committment: 1 day of training and 4 service days per season
Location: Paradise, Tattoosh Range, Westside Road
Type: Individual

Description: Mount Rainier's Nordic Patrol volunteers assists park staff by informing visitors of winter conditions, maintaining winter trails, and helping with both preventative and emergency search and rescue.
Nordic Patrol Page
Season: Year round
Time Committment: Full and part time
Location: Ashford, Wa
Type: Individual

Description: Volunteers assist curatorial staff with conducting inventories of the museum collection, installation and deinstallation of seasonal exhibits, the care of artifacts and specimens, aiding researchers, scanning photograph and document requests, and cataloging artifacts.
Curatorial Club
Season: April-September
Time Commitment: 1 day (4-6 hours)
Location: State Route 706
Type: Individual or small group

Description: Mount Rainier has an agreement with WSDOT to pick up litter along State Route 706 between mile posts 2 and 4 and hosts three to four work parties per year.

Volunteer Rights, Responsibilities, and Benefits

  1. A safe work environment

  2. Ability to refuse assignments they do not want or do not feel comfortable doing

  3. Receive the same professional protocol as paid staff

  4. Have their time used effectively

  5. Receive clear and non-conflicting guidance and direction

  6. Be kept informed of activities and updates concerning their volunteer assignments

  7. Receive appropriate orientation, training, and supervision

  8. Be assigned worthwhile and challenging tasks

  9. Be informed to the overall operation of the park and how their assignment plays a part

  10. Have opportunities for growth and development

  11. Be offered a variety of experiences

  12. Receive regular substantial feedback on the quality and effectiveness of their work

  13. Be recognized for their contributions

  14. Have opportunities to provide feedback on the volunteer program

  15. Be trusted with the information needed to carry out their jobs effectively

  16. Be assigned a direct supervisor

  1. Make safety the highest priority for themselves and those they are working with

  2. Represent the National Park Service and Mount Rainier in a professional manner

  3. Follow all of the park's policies, guidelines, and procedures and seek to understand and work within its organizational structure

  4. Seek and accept the guidance and support needed to complete assignments effectively

  5. Work as a team with park staff and other volunteers and respect mutual roles

  6. Be reliable in communication, attendance, and fulfilling assignments

  7. Do a quality, professional grade job

  8. Respect access to information, facilities, equipment, and resources

  9. Attend, actively participate in, and learn from training sessions and meetings

  10. Make good faith efforts to resolve differences or conflicts

  11. Care for park resources

To make volunteering more feasible and to say thank you, Mount Rainier provides their volunteers with the following benefits:

  • Free entrance into the park on days the volunteer is working

  • The option to stay in the Longmire Stewardship Campground at no cost either the night before or the night of service

  • Housing for some full-time long-term volunteers

  • Training opportunities and the chance to develop job skills

  • A year-long volunteer pass that is good for entrance into any national park for one year for volunteers who have served a total of 250 hours or more with any federal land management agency

  • A name tag for volunteers who have served more than 100 hours at Mount Rainier

  • Brass recognition bars (to be worn with name tags) that commemorate service milestones of 500 hours and increments of 1,000, and years in increments of five

  • Evaluation of work by the project supervisor that can be used for resumes and future job applications


Documentation (It's Important!)

All volunteers must have a signed service agreement that clearly defines all assigned duties prior to doing any work.
A service agreement is a legal document that formally enrolls the volunteer with the Mount Rainier Volunteers In Parks program. This document is drafted by the supervisor and outlines the exact duties of the volunteer along with any potentially dangerous or hazardous activities and their associated mitigation procedures. Safety is our number one priority here at Mount Rainier and while we are proactively taking measures to create a safe working environment, every individual is responsible for their own safety. Should an incident occur, the service agreement will be used to determine whether the volunteer was working within their assigned duties and following proper safety procedures. The service agreement should be reviewed by the volunteer and the supervisor on a regular basis (at least every season) and updated any time there is a change in task assignment. To protect yourself, never do any work unless it is clearly defined in a signed service agreement.
All volunteers should submit emergency contact information prior to doing any work. If it is not part of your service agreement document ask your supervisor for an additional form. Emergency contact information needs to be updated every season.

Long term full time volunteers should complete the official park emergency contact form and submit it to Dispatch. Dispatch will keep the information in their database in case of emergency. Ask your supervisor for details.
If you are serving with a group (for example, a one day trail project through Washington Trails Association), your group leader will have the service agreement for the group and you will sign a sign-in sheet. By signing the sign-in sheet you are covered by the group service agreement which should be made available for your review by your group leader. All emergency contact information will also be collected by your group leader.
Many of our projects are well suited for teens and youth, although some may have age restrictions due to the nature of the project. However all volunteers under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal gaurdian sign the release portion of the Service Agreement. If the youth is volunteering in a group and will not be accompanied by the parent or legal gaurdian, make sure the group lead has a signed release form before arriving at the park.
Accurately tracking volunteer hours is extremely important for the park as well as the volunteer. Every year the number of volunteer hours donated directly affect the park's budget and funding for the Volunteer In Parks program. For the volunteer it is important to track the number of hours for resume purposes and receiving volunteer benefits. All volunteers are responsible for tracking their own hours and submitting them to the Volunteer Program on a regular basis. A standardized form can be supplied by your supervisor or the volunteer program manager.
Additional forms may be required for certain volunteers including reimbursement claims, background checks for computer access, government vehicle access, and auto decals for regular volunteers. Your supervisor will provide you with more information and the physical forms should they apply.

Logistics of Volunteering

Park residents, employees, and volunteers are subject to Federal laws and regulations regardless of state law. This prohibits employees and volunteers from carrying a firearm while on duty. This also prohibits the use and possession of marijuana.

For many positions, uniforms will be provided for you by the volunteer coordinator or by your supervisor. The uniform will identify you as an official volunteer for the National Park Service and should only be worn while officially on duty. At Mount Rainier National Park uniforms consist of a khaki long or short sleeve shirt with a National Park Service Volunteer patch sewn on the left shoulder and a green ball cap or tan bucket hat with a similar patch. You will supply your own pants that are appropriate for your position, ask your supervisor if you have any questions. Volunteer patches are also available to be sewn on outerwear for volunteers that serve during the winter. Certain programs like Nordic Patrol may have specific uniform requirements that your supervisor will supply to you.

Entrance into the park is free to the volunteer on the days they are volunteering. Volunteers who work on a regular basis can apply for a entrance sticker that will allow them to use the employee bypass lane at the Nisqually and Stevens Canyon entrances. Please keep in mind the amount of traffic the park gets, especially during the summer months, and leave extra time for travel to the park when coming to volunteer. Some volunteers may be asked to park in specific locations that make sense for their program and visitor use. Please ask your supervisor for details.
To fulfill assigned duties some volunteers will need access to a government computer and will therefore need to complete a federal background check and be issued a PIV card. This process can take up to two months and should be started as soon as possible. Your supervisor will let you know if this applies to you during the onboarding process.
Reimbursements are sometimes provided to volunteers for out-of-pocket expenses incurred as a direct result of volunteer activities (local transportation, meals, uniforms, lodging, etc.). Such reimbursements are only provided if the volunteer is unable to volunteer without assistance and must be arranged with your supervisor prior to starting work. All volunteers receiving reimbursement must fill out Form 10-67, "Volunteer Reimbursement" and submit it to their supervisor as well as set up Direct Deposit.

Housing options are extremely limited at Mount Rainier National Park for volunteers (and all employees). There are a few spaces in shared housing as well as RV sites with hookups for volunteers who serve at least 32 hours per week. Housing is provided to volunteers free of charge but is billed to the department which the volunteer is working for. The volunteer announcement to which you applied will indicate whether the position is eligible for park housing, and housing options should be discussed with your supervisor prior to signing the service agreement.

The Longmire Campground is available for short term volunteers to use at no cost the night before and the night of their volunteer commitment. There are 41 sites of various sizes and several platform tents (summer only). RVs and camper trailers are limited to 24 ft in length. There are no hookups but a shower building is available for volunteer use during the summer months. Food lockers are located various places in the campground to keep wildlife from scavenging campsites. To reserve a campsite email us with the date you are volunteering, the night you are reserving, the size of your group, and whether you are staying in a tent, RV, or one of our platform tents.

Pets are not allowed in any park housing but are allowed for RV campers. All pets must comply with the park pet policy and must stay inside at night.

Cell phone service is unavailable in most areas of the park including all housing areas. Cell phone service is sometimes available at the housing in Tahoma Woods depending on the provider. There is also a verizon repeater located in the employee lounge at Longmire.

Volunteers staying in park housing for an extended period of time have the option of setting up phone service at their own expense through a local provider.

Pay phones are located at the Longmire Inn, Paradise Inn, Ohanapecosh Visitor Center, and White River Ranger Station.

WiFi is largely unavailable in the park. Exceptions include the Longmire Museum and Paradise Visitor Center for public use, and the employee lounge at Longmire for employee and full time volunteer use. Volunteers living in the park may also use office computers after hours to check personal email if they have a PIV card. Bandwidth is limited so streaming services like Netflix are not permitted.
Generally volunteers will need to bring their own food on days they are working in the park. If you are volunteering in a group through one of our partners, the group lead may have arranged for refreshments and will specify that in the program description. Keep in mind that options to buy food in the park are limited and may not be feasible depending where in the park you are serving. Refrigeration and microwaves are also extremely limited, so aim for non perishable, high energy snacks.

Potable water sources also may or may not be available depending on where you are in the park. Drinkable water is available at all developed park locations but make sure you bring a water bottle. If you are volunteering in the backcountry you may also need to bring water filters.

Depending on the project special equipment may be required to complete the job, such as wheelbarrows and shovels for trail maintenance. In general the park will supply volunteers with the tools needed, but check with your supervisor if you are required to supply anything specific like work boots or gloves.

Safety and Emergency Procedures

Safety is our top priority at Mount Rainier National Park and it is important that all staff and volunteers are informed of and comply to all current safety standards. Here you will find general safety information but your supervisor should provide you with adequate training, best safety practices, and necessary equipment for your specific task. If you do not feel like you can do the job safely, you have the right to refuse the task.

As a park volunteer it is a real possibility that you may be the first on the scene of an accident, especially if you are working in the backcountry, and we want you to feel prepared and supported should a situation arise. Please try your best to stay calm and rational and keep those involved as well as any bystanders calm too.

Reporting an emergency is almost always the first action to be taken. 9-1-1 can be dialed from any park phone and they will initiate a response in your area or you can call dispatch at extension 6600. However, in areas where a phone is not conveniently located, emergencies should be reported to dispatch through park radio. The standard call for an emergency is "Dispatch, (your name or radio number), (your location), Emergency Traffic." Dispatch will then ask you for incident details and give you further instruction. Radios are carried by most staff and some volunteers. See Radio Protocol for more information on standard radio practice.

Aside from reporting, volunteers are not required to give any assistance that would put them in danger or that requires a level of training they do not possess. If you have the training and skills to safely and effectively help the situation, send someone else to get help and then get involved. After thoroughly assessing the situation, if you are doubtful of your ability to help, wait for help to arrive. In all circumstances reporting the accident and getting help is top priority.

Detailed information on what to do in an emergency situation can be found on our volunteer emergency response page.

The physical properties of Mount Rainier as an active volcano with an active glacial system, extreme weather patterns, and high volumes of precipitation make the park inherently vulnerable to natural disaster. Our biggest threat in most areas of the park are Geohazards which are events resulting from geological activity in the park taking the form of mudslides, debri flows, and rapid flooding. It is the volunteer's responsibility to know the probability of these events in the area they are working in, the warning signs, and how to get to safety. Detailed information can be found on our Geohazards Page. Ask your supervisor about evacuation routes for your specific location as well as the locations of lahar packs that are located in all office and visitor centers.

The park's safety goal of zero incidents can only be realized if all park staff, volunteers, and visitors proactively work toward that goal. As a volunteer we ask that you are aware of your surroundings when in the park and speak up when you see something that is unsafe whether it relates to your job, the job of another employee or volunteer, or the experience of a visitor.

If the situation puts a person in immediate danger, gently approach that person and explain what you see and the possible consequences of the situation, then report to your supervisor. If the situation is not urgent, contact your supervisor, explain the situation and ask what you can do to help mitigate the risk.

If you are in a situation where you feel your safety concerns are not being adequately addressed you can contact the Volunteer Program directly.

Radios are the most reliable form of communication in most areas of the park and it is likely that you will need to either carry or use one sometime during your service (unless you are primarily in an office in which case you use the phone). Your supervisor will let you know if you are expected to carry a radio while you are working and if so assign one to you.

Radios are for emergencies and the communication of immediate pertinent information. See Radio Protocol for standard radio procedure.

Volunteers who are have a signed Service Agreement and who were injured while performing their assigned duties following park safety procedures are covered under the Federal Compensation Act and the Federal Tort Claims Act just like paid employees. If you are injured on the job you are entitled to first aid and medical care if applicable. When travel is necessary to receive medical attention the travel costs and associated expenses are able to be reimbursed. Other compensations through the Office of Workers Compensation Programs may apply depending on the situation

If you are injured on the job, notify your supervisor immediately, preferrably before seeking medical attention if possible. Your supervisor will also provide you with and help you complete the necessary paperwork.

Volunteer Review and Completion

Every volunteer has the right to an evaluation by a supervisor to receive feedback on the quality and effectiveness of their work. This can be through a verbal conversation or more formal documentation if the volunteer intends to use it for a resume or reference.

Volunteers may also be evaluated if their work is not meeting the needs of the project manager. Often times a simple increase in support, communication, and explanation of expectations can resolve any issues that arise. There are also times where the duties of the volunteer may be revised in the volunteer agreement to better fit the skills of the volunteer with the needs of the park.

Evaluation by a supervisor is one of your rights as a volunteer and you should not hesitate to contact your supervisor for review.

It is the right of the volunteer and the park to terminate the volunteer agreement at anytime for any reason. However, we encourage supervisors to evaluate and communicate the issue with the volunteer and try to resolve any conflicts before termination. If you are having an issue as a volunteer and are unsure how to approach your supervisor about it, you can contact the Volunteer Program for support. Keep in mind that volunteers are protected from harassment of any kind.
All good things must come to an end whether it is the completion of a project, the closing of a season, or a volunteer deciding their chapter volunteering at Mount Rainier is over. Upon ending the volunteer relationship we ask you return any equipment to your supervisor (radios, keys, uniforms, tools, etc.) and fill out our Volunteer Reflection Survey. This quick survey will ask you about your experience volunteering at Mount Rainier National Park and help us improve not only the specific program you were involved in, but the overall Volunteers In Parks program at Mount Rainier in general. This survey may also be taken at the end of the season by volunteers who are returning but would like to give feedback.


Trainings and Resources

Knowledge is power and there's always more to learn! Certain positions such as Meadow Rovers and community science projects will have mandatory trainings for those specific roles. Other volunteer roles such as trail work may not have any training beyond basic safety instruction. Below are resources available to all volunteers who want to learn more about the park, develop develope new skills, and continue their growth as a volunteer.

Special Topic Seminars
Throughout the summer season the Volunteer Program will be facilitating a series of mini trainings on a variety of topics presented by park staff and other volunteers in their area of expertise. These trainings are usually one to two hours and might be a formal presentation, a hands on activity, or a field trip. We offer these various times throughout the summer on both sides of the park. To see what topics are being offered when, see the Volunteer Calendar.

Volunteer Training Drive
If you have a Google Account you can access our VIP Training Drive that has resources compliled from various park trainings, special topic seminars, and partner organizations on a variety of topics.

If you have a request for additional training materials or a Special Topic Seminar, contact the Volunteer Program.

Last updated: July 28, 2020

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55210 238th Avenue East
Ashford, WA 98304


360 569-2211

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