This Saturday, on a perfect 50 degree sunny day in Yosemite National Park, instead of relaxing, enjoying the park, going skiing or rock climbing, I’m going to spend about 8 hours volunteering to stand in the Visitor’s Center and answer questions from visitors – mostly the same question, which is some varient of “Here I am, what should I do now?”
Seems like I am often asked why I would give up a weekend day (about twice a month) to volunteer in the Valley Visitor Center. Well, there are plenty of reasons to volunteer in a National Park. Some people use volunteering as a way to live in and enjoy Yosemite for longer than the allowed week in the summer time, but I’m already here. Others use the volunteer program as a stepping stone to future employment, but that’s not my goal. (Love my job, even when it’s driving me crazy.) There are also many people who come from all over simply to give back to a place that they love. That one applies.
Interestingly enough, even though there are hundreds (thousands?) of volunteers in the park each year, when you live here, and more specifically work full time here, it isn’t as easy as you might think to find a way to volunteer on a regular basis. Because there are so many people who are retired, or taking a break and able to offer substantial chunks of time to volunteering, the ‘evenings and weekends only’ opportunities are fairly slim, so when I found out that another co-worker of mine was volunteering with NPS Interpretation, I leaped at the chance.
Volunteering in Interpretation is a pretty good gig, really. NPS is often able to provide some kind of accommodation (for those that don’t already have it), the work is easy and rewarding, and look at where you are! In the Interp department, there are also great side-perks like working with really wonderful people whose JOB is knowing cool stuff about the park. Talk about a great learning opportunity! And talk about suddenly being introduced to exactly the right group of people know when you come across some new thing, curious story, or historical reference and want to learn more about it. Plus, it feels good to be able to help people out, and share my love for and knowledge of the park. For the most part, people are appreciative. (Although during the summer time I also understood the volunteer who prominently displayed a large button saying ‘Don’t yell at me. I’m a Volunteer’ on his shirt.) Last summer, I was allowed to research a topic of my choince and give a short 15 min. presentation, and I was invited to participate in morning Yosemite Nature Club outings that were absolutely fascinating.
So, while there is definitely a part of me that really wishes I could sleep in on Saturday and then spend the day recreating, there’s also another part that is grateful to be doing what I’m doing. If you really want to make my day – stop by the Visitor’s Center and ask me a question that I have to go to one of the reference books to look up. It’s not that I like being stumped, but if I get to discover or learn something new, that makes it all worthwhile.