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Volunteering on Martin Luther King Day

Across the state all of our Virginia State Parks commemorated Martin Luther King's Birthday by coordinating volunteer events, special programming, or participating in outreach programs as part of the commitment to our AmeriCorps project. A volunteer from Sky Meadows State Park contributed this post about her experience volunteering. - editor

The birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. has become a popular day for volunteering – what a great tribute to a great American!  For our family’s volunteer stint, we headed out to our favorite park, Sky Meadows State Park.  We left Cujo and the other dogs at home (see my New Year’s post), and headed out with a team of folks to do trail maintenance.  This was the kind of volunteer job I love – no heavy lifting or back-breaking work.  All we had to do was hike our assigned trail and note in a GPS unit where we found problems on the trail, i.e.. fallen trees, deep holes, clogged water bars.  Nice work if you can get it!  It was chilly, but once we got out of the wind and into the woods, the sun kept us nice and warm.  Our trail maintenance team consisted of adults and kids, and we had a great time hiking the Gap Run trail.

Volunteers for a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Volunteer Project at Sky Meadows State Park
Volunteers gathered for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Trail Project

I won’t say that all of my volunteer gigs for the environment are this easy and enjoyable, but they’re usually very rewarding.  The last time our family volunteered for the environment, we had the satisfaction of maintaining a beautiful park picnic area and keeping it free of weeds!  We also got the added experience of poison ivy a day or two later – mental note, bring gloves next time.  I’ve done quite a bit of volunteering at the National Zoo, both at the Invertebrate House and at the Conservation Biology Institute.  The advantage of volunteering in a place like the zoo is how much you learn as a volunteer.  I can go on and on and on (so say my friends and relatives) about the fascinating animals I encountered – octopus, maned wolfspiny lobsterPrzewalski’ horse.  And even when folks looked at me in the invertebrate house and asked, “Where are the REAL animals?” I often got at least one or two of the people in their group to see that golden orb weaver spiders are pretty cool.  

I know that most of us spend a lot of time volunteering for our local schools, churches, soup kitchens, or libraries, but it’s worth considering spending a few hours volunteering for the environment.  Due to budget cuts, our parks, nature centers, and zoos rely heavily on volunteer hours.  I know of one park where volunteer hours are double the number of paid hours each year!  How can you volunteer for the environment?  Well, there are the obvious parks and nature centers, but there are also lesser known activities.  How about stream monitoring with a local watershed protection group?  Only have one day per year to volunteer?  Consider participating in a Christmas Bird count or a 4th of July Butterfly Count.  There’s something for everyone – even scuba divers in the Chesapeake Bay can lend their skills helping with water clarity and other efforts.

You may not be able to do much, but every little bit helps – be a hummingbird! 

Published: 01/22/2012

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