Volunteering For Environmental Causes

More Than Just a Walk in the Park

written by Ellen Freudenheim, MPH

Thinking about a fun, inexpensive way to get outdoors, do something unusual, and also “give back” to society?

Consider volunteering at one of the many state or national parks. You might be surprised at what’s available.

For instance, if you want to winter in a warm weather environment, and happen to be an African American history buff or amateur historical preservationist, you might look into working in Florida at the National Park Service’s Southeast Archeological Center. This research facility, part of the officially designated National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, needs volunteers for an ongoing project of identifying and cataloguing archeological materials.

Or, if you love to camp and are willing to make a two or three month commitment from June to December, then you might want to contact Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park to study the rarest turtle in the Pacific Ocean, the endangered hawksbill.

You won’t get paid. But there are non-financial rewards: the novelty (and health benefits) of working outdoors; a new challenge; the pride in knowing you are helping the environment.

How to Find Out What’s Available

The National Park Service Web site lists about two dozen job categories, from “archaeology” to“ back country,” “botany” to “computers,” “livestock” to “timber” and “fire prevention,”—and of course visitor information and tour guide. Their website is very user friendly; you can search by job type, by name of a park, or by the state you’d like to work in. The listing briefly describes volunteer programs, the duration of the project, and whether housing is available. For state park information, see your state government’s website.

Birdseye View: Volunteering for the National Park Service

  • There are over 300 different volunteer programs.
  • About one third of those who volunteer in the National Park Service system work as guides.
  • Another one in five volunteers do resource management or maintenance.
  • While in most cases accommodations are not provided for volunteers, sometimes basic housing is available. For instance, the Hawaii job offers dorm housing and a very modest daily meal reimbursement of $10.
  • If you volunteer, you won’t be alone. About 125,000 volunteers contribute annually to the National Park Service, at an estimated value of $72 million.