Each year, Yosemite National Park hosts over 9,500 volunteers who donate over 187,000 hours of work to the park. The award ceremony is held on National Public Lands Day each year, as part of the annual Yosemite Facelift park-wide cleanup event.
“Volunteers are an integral part of Yosemite’s preservation and protection. They repair trails, clean roadways, assist visitors, survey wildlife, patrol camps, and do innumerable others important jobs that all help to preserve the magic of Yosemite National Park,” stated Don Neubacher, park superintendent. “It takes incredible people to provide this level of exceptional volunteer service and at Yosemite we are very thankful for their contribution.”
The recipients of the fourth annual Yosemite Volunteer Awards are:
Individual Volunteer Award
Kim and Loren Ross: Kim and Loren came to Yosemite to help the park create its first formal Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR) program. They recruited and trained over 80 volunteers to help educate the public on safety in the park and respond to emergencies when needed. As supervisors and coordinators of the program, their leadership was critical for its success, helping to reduce the number of visitors who were injured and require rescue or medical assistance.
Individual Youth Volunteer Award
Alejandra Guzman: Alejandra Guzman is a student at UC Merced who has participated in the Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship for two years. This year, she took on a new role as Lead Intern – mentoring new students and providing educational programing to youth in other programs, including the Youth Conservation Corps and California Conservation Corps. Her positive attitude, support for her peers, and strong work ethic have made her an exemplary youth volunteer.
Enduring Volunteer Award
Bill Sonka: For ten years, Bill Sonka has been the core of the Yosemite Desk Officer Program, recruiting retired law enforcement officers to assist the National Park Service law enforcement staff with accident reports, bear incidents, traffic management and more. Bill’s deep knowledge of the park and this program has made it run very smoothly.
Volunteer Group Award
Wilderness Volunteers: Wilderness Volunteers is an organization that facilitates volunteer work all over the United States, with more than 500 participants each year. For the last 9 years, a group of ten volunteers from Wilderness Volunteers have been coming to the park each June to work in the Tiltill Valley and other areas around Hetch Hetchy on wilderness restoration efforts. Their work has included removing invasive plants and illegal campsites, restoring impacted areas, and surveying rare plant species.
Volunteer Youth Group Award
The Seven Hills School: For several years, teachers from the Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek have been bringing middle school students to Yosemite to conduct wildlife research on toads and birds in the backcountry. Students hike to remote wilderness lakes to capture and inventory amphibians as a part of an ongoing research project. Their work has been critical in helping park staff to monitor these species, while at the same time providing students with real-life science experience.
Supervisor of Volunteers Award
Ruth Heine: Ruth Heine is the Yosemite Conservancy Volunteer Program Assistant Manager and is responsible for supervising volunteers in several different programs. For the last several summers, she has been managing up to 18 volunteers each month in the Visitor Information Assistant Program in Yosemite Valley while also coordinating 9 week-long volunteer groups, work weekends for corporations, and fund-raising during park fee-free days. Ruth is known for her dedication to the park, her compassion with volunteers, her organization of complicated schedules, and her upbeat attitude.
Yosemite Volunteer Program Award
Yosemite Leadership Program Summer Internship: The Yosemite Leadership Program, in partnership with UC Merced, placed 14 college students in internships at Yosemite this summer. The students worked in various roles, from youth education to wildlife research, Spanish language visitor information to administrative support for the Superintendent’s office. The students also met once each week for ongoing outdoor leadership training. At the end of the summer, each student presented a special project at the annual Yosemite Youth Forum. All of these facets combine to create a robust and powerful program that changes the lives of these youth.
Facelift Volunteer Award
Jim Painter: The 10th Annual Yosemite Facelift once again brought over 1,000 volunteers to Yosemite to clean up the park. This event would not be possible without a dedicated group of volunteers working throughout the year with the Yosemite Climbing Association. Jim Painter is a critical part of this team, culminating in his role as one of the hosts at the Facelift registration area, helping to set up each day, facilitating project assignments, and sorting trash.
NatureBridge Service Project Instructor of the Year
Andrew David: NatureBridge is a primary partner of Yosemite National Park, bringing about 14,000 students to the park each year for educational experiences. Stewardship of park resources is a core piece of their mission, and many students perform volunteer activities as a part of their lessons. Andrew David has a dedication to a stewardship ethic that inspires his students every day, engaging nearly all his students in projects including removal of conifers from meadows, litter pick up, snow surveys, and stream bio-monitoring.