Starting today, Monday April 13th, it's National Volunteer Week.
Ever volunteered before? It's easier to get started than you think. This week at BioLite we're highlighting five ways you can get your volunteer on for the outdoors. Whether you're an avid hiker or a cook with a green thumb, we've got something for just about everyone on the list:
1) Volunteer in our Park System
The United States has an incredible system of state and local parks. Rangers and park employees provide an invaluable service to keep our experiences positive and safe, but long term upkeep and operation often relies heavily on the support of local volunteers. Things like trail maintenance, cleanups, educational guides, and camp hosts are constantly needed throughout the country. Volunteer.gov has created a portal that allows you to search by geography, keyword, or interest, and provides you with an immediate list of available opportunities from places like the National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers. Go ocean kayaking for a half day or lead a wildlife watching tour at a bird park - it's all in there.
2) Help Others Get Outdoors
Maybe you prefer pounding the pavement over the trails - well then this volunteer opportunity is for you. Achilles International is a community of runners that connects able-bodied guides with disabled partners to foster a sense of support, possibility, and accomplishment. Achilles has chapters all over the world - before your next race, see if they participate in your community.
Country Roads Foundation is a New York based organization dedicated to providing outdoor opportunities for kids living in impoverished and violent neighborhoods. Their flagship summer program, Camp Power, is a 1 week summer camp that takes kids out of their daily environment gives them a chance to just be a kid by enjoying the outdoors in a safe and encouraging space. Their programming continues year round with events like rock-climbing (we went to one of those, it was awesome), team meals, and participating in community service events.
Looking for volunteer life on the water? Check out Environmental Traveling Companions, an organization started in 1972 by three river rafting guides. They offer white water rafting and sea kayaking trips to disadvantaged youth and people with disabilities - and they're looking for volunteers this season!
3) Bring Nature to the Concrete Jungle
Chicago Urban Farming
Urban Gardening and Farming has taken off as a powerful way to introduce greenery into cities as well as better connect communities to our food systems. A lot of major metropolitan areas have specific programs (New York, Austin, Chicago, LA) and seek volunteers to do everything from cooking demonstrations, community outreach, and even making mulch. When's the last time you made mulch?
4) Just Use your Eyeballs (seriously)
credit: Brian Powell
credit: Brian Powell
Phenology: the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life. Translation: Have a trail or a patch of forest that you frequent? If you speak up when you see the first bloom of the season or give a shout when you hear the tweets of birds in spring, you can have more of an impact that you realize. The USA National Phenology Network has launched a project "focused on collecting standardized ground observations of phenology by researchers, students and volunteers," and needs eyes on the ground to report seasonal changes. When this data is collected on a quantitative scale, it can tell a powerful story about climate change, shifting ecosystems, and the health of local flora and fauna. Status monitoring is an important scientific approach used to collect data, so if you have a spot that you visit often, this could be a great way to turn your habit into a quick volunteer opportunity.
5) Join a Hot Spot through Leave No Trace
Popular outdoor destinations receive a lot of traffic, and some of them get so much wear and tear that they need extra care to reverse the damage. Leave No Trace took note of this and developed the Hot Spot program, identifying 12 geographically and ecologically diverse sites throughout the country that are in need of some TLC. They now seek volunteers for the 2015 program to participate in community based projects in their local parks and introduce Leave No Trace best practices to restore these sites to their original condition.
Aside from helping the outdoors, volunteering has some great built-in benefits as well: it's a great way to meet new people, feel a sense of accomplishment, and challenge yourself to new experiences you might not have otherwise.
Do you have other volunteer ideas for the outdoors? Share them with The BioLite Community - we'll be retweeting our favorites all this week.