Kevin Bacher hates to imagine what Mount Rainier National Park would be like without volunteers.
“You have 1,700 volunteers contributing 70,000 hours of service,” said Bacher, the park’s volunteer coordinator for the past decade. “You take that away, and all of a sudden there is no way we could keep up.
“… Visitors would find trails impassable or blocked by trees for long periods of time. They would find the meadows significantly deteriorated because there’s just no way we could keep people off the meadows without the help of the meadow rover program.”
He says the understanding of the park would be diminished without the citizen scientist program. Volunteers also assist visitors, pick up litter and help with other tasks.
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“Almost every aspect of the operation here is enhanced by volunteers,” Bacher said.
The National Park Service turns 100 on Aug. 25 and is as dependent as ever on volunteers.
At Mount Rainier, established 17 years before the Park Service, volunteers are turning out in droves.
Bacher, 49, says he won’t know numbers until October, but “Anecdotally, it feels like a busy year. It’s been busy in the park. It’s been busy with the volunteer program. We’ve had calls from more groups than ever before. We have more youth programs in the park than we’ve ever had before.”
All of this means Bacher is busier than ever coordinating the efforts. But recently he carved out a few minutes to field some questions about the volunteer program.
Q: You’ve been at Mount Rainier for almost 14 years. Have you been volunteer coordinator that entire time?
A: When I first got here I was doing the volunteer program as a collateral duty. My official job was as an interpreter. I was spending about 30 percent of time managing the volunteer program, and that continued up through the big flood in 2006.
Then I was promoted temporarily to full-time volunteer program manager just to manage the flood recovery. That was so successful, the park decided to invest in making that a full-time position. So, I applied for that and got it.
Q: The response to the 2006 flood, was that the most impressive volunteer effort you’ve seen at the park?
A: No question. In part, that’s because of the huge number of people who turned out. We doubled our volunteer program in that year after the flood. But also the tremendous partnership-building that took place after the flood. Building a relationship with the Washington Trails Association, expanding our partnership with Student Conservation Association. Connecting with groups like REI, Starbucks and other businesses in the area. All of those relationships were born out of the reaction to the flood and continue to this day.
Not only are those partners bringing in lots of people to volunteer, but they are continuing to support us. The WTA has somebody in the park, dedicated to the park, all summer long, and that increases our capacity to work with them.
Q: Do most people volunteer on the weekends?
A: There is an amazing amount that happens, even during the week. The youth crews are working on the trails throughout the week. There is a group at Camp Muir at the moment working on the stonework for the new bathroom. There is a group working in the campgrounds. But also, the meadow rover program is our biggest volunteer program other than trails, and they are out there seven days per week, mostly above Paradise and Sunrise.
The citizen science programs are out throughout the week, surveying butterflies and wildflowers. On any day of the week I could send you out to meet five or six different groups of people working on projects.
Q: I get the sense that the meadow rover program is a pretty sweet gig. Who signs up for this program?
A: A lot of the people we get as meadow rovers are people who’ve been hiking on the trails for years, and they’ve seen other people going off the trails and causing social trails, and it just bothers them because they know that’s damaging to the park. Then they come across a volunteer in uniform, and the light comes on and they think, “Hey, I can do this. I can make a difference, and people will actually listen to me when I tell them they should be staying on the trail.”
And we give them the training on how to do that in a positive way. It works out well for everyone.
Q: Anything else people should know about the volunteer program?
A: People can get information from the web page (nps.gov/mora). … The main message I want to convey is that we have something for just about everyone. We have opportunities for people who can just drop in for a day or for those looking for something longer.
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