Taking Time to Give Back
Have you ever gotten directions from a friendly face at an information kiosk in the Valley? Or seen a neon-vested group pulling invasive plants in Tuolumne Meadows? There’s a good chance that those people were sharing their knowledge, time and talents as part of our volunteer program.
The tradition of volunteering in Yosemite stretches back to the park’s early years. In 1864, just a few months after President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant Act, the governor of California appointed a board to manage the newly protected Valley and Mariposa Grove. The commissioners served without pay, volunteering their expertise to preserve those nearly 40,000 acres.
Today, more than 150 years later, volunteers continue to play a key role in the park. The Conservancy's volunteer program took root in the 1980s, and has since grown into an award-winning service with hundreds of participants every year. Want to lend a hand? No matter how much time you have to give — a day, a week, a season — every moment makes a difference for Yosemite.
A day: Clean up, creatively. Every year, thousands of volunteers come to Yosemite to take part in Facelift, a post-summer clean-up organized by the Yosemite Climbing Association at the end of September. While there's plenty of elbow grease involved, the festive atmosphere and sense of camaraderie almost make you forget you're working hard. If you're feeling extra energetic (and artistic), draw inspiration from the UC Merced students who build sculptures out of materials collected throughout the park, a whimsical reminder that all it takes is a little creativity to give “trash” a new life!
A weekend: Build community with coworkers. Does your company support Yosemite? If so, check out our corporate volunteer program, which gives employees of our corporate partners the chance to participate in weekend restoration projects in Yosemite. In recent years, volunteer groups have helped improve pollinator habitat in Yosemite Valley, worked among the park's giant sequoias, and spent time revitalizing the wetland ecosystem along the shores of Tenaya Lake. Like Facelift, these work weekends aren't all about work: Participants get to see world-famous features and explore trails, learn from park experts, and connect with one another, all while making a visible difference in Yosemite.
A week: Take care of trees. Working in groups of up to 15 people, our weeklong volunteers support many important projects, from setting up bear-proof food lockers to removing informal “social” trails. One of our perennial work week projects focuses on protecting Yosemite's black oaks, a native tree species that holds significant natural and cultural value. With guidance from NPS staff, volunteers tag seedlings, measure mature trees, put up protective cages around the trunks, remove invasive plants from areas around the oaks, and more.
A few months — or years: Meet our Visitor Information Assistants. Our monthlong volunteers each devote at least four spring or summer weeks to helping park visitors navigate, learn about and enjoy Yosemite. You’ll find these blue-clad volunteers at popular spots throughout the park, from Olmsted Point, where they welcome visitors to the high country and use a telescope to zoom in on Half Dome climbers; to Yosemite Valley parking areas and information booths, where they help direct people toward trails, scenic views and facilities.
Many Visitor Information Assistants return to the park year after year, donating a month or more at a time to make a difference for a place that keeps drawing them back. You can meet some of those longtime volunteers here on the blog, people like Judy Johnson, who started out as a work week volunteer in 1992 and joined the monthlong cadre in 2004.
If you have the chance to talk to one of our Visitor Information Assistants, take it. Find out what brings them back, year after year. Every volunteer will have a slightly different answer, but one reason seems universal: Spending a month giving back in the park means experiencing Yosemite in a way that few do. These volunteers get to see the Milky Way dappling a dark night sky, hear songbirds trilling morning tunes, and watch the subtle shifts in water, light and life that mark the slow transition from dawn to dusk, from season to season. And, above all, they get to share their deep-rooted affection for the park with people who are just starting to fall in love with Yosemite.
We can’t say it enough: Thank you to all of our incredible volunteers for the difference you make in the park every year! To learn more about volunteering Yosemite and see current openings, visit our Volunteer page.
Main image: A volunteer from Capital Group lends a hand on a restoration project. Photo: Steven Matros.