National parks, state parks, public land areas, and more are ALWAYS looking for volunteers for a variety of tasks. There are tons of opportunities too, whether it's a one-time event or putting in time regularly. Volunteer opportunities include everything from greeting visitors and providing them with information to trail maintenance. If you've been looking for ways to help your favorite parks and natural areas, this article will give you some ideas on how you can get involved.
Featured photo: Mount Rainier National Park Trail Crew
Volunteer opportunities in the National Park System are just as varied as the parks and sites themselves. Most “jobs” are seasonal, but you can always contact your nearest park to talk about scheduling something more permanent.
Jobs at national parks include visitor/education center workers and greeters, artists-in-residence programs, and camp hosts. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you have an RV or camper, volunteering as a camp host is a great way to see the country. (Note: Typically, hosts have an RV. But, we're pretty sure most places don't have any rules against travel trailers. Always be sure to double-check!)
Depending on what kind of volunteering you're doing and the time frame, you may be able to live at the park for free throughout your duration. (And not having to own an RV!) Some places offer free housing if volunteers spend X amount of hours doing work. (Usually at least 20 hours/week.) This is another awesome way to see places you've always wanted to visit or spend an extended time at over the summer.
To browse opportunities, start at Volunteer.gov. You can either skim through their current listings or use the “search” to quickly find opportunities at the park(s) nearest you. As a bit of a side note, keep in mind that if the whole family is getting involved, kids will need written permission to volunteer at national parks.
You may also try contacting a specific park's volunteer coordinator. They may have some opportunities for you that aren't even listed on the main volunteer website.
Finally, check out this page from howstuffworks. It has a lot more information on the types of opportunities you can find at parks and how to go about finding them.
Even if you don't live near a national park, chances are you're within driving distance of a state park. They have plenty of volunteer opportunities too! There are a couple of ways to find these jobs.
First, try searching for a local “Friends of Such and Such Park” group. (They may go by different names in different states/parts of the country.) They often have lots of volunteering opportunities. These include invasive weed pulls, helping out at local events to spread the word about their group and what they do to help the park, and helping to raise donations for the park.
Second, check with the park itself by heading to their visitor center or main office. Despite having a maintenance crew, parks always have trash that needs picked up and disposed of. This includes both on trails and in common places, like picnic areas. Some parks will even provide trash bags and gloves for you to use.
Camp host jobs are another big “thing” in state parks. Places are always looking for them come springtime and early summer. Generally, you work for a few weeks to a few months and get a rent-free spot for your time. Again, this is usually at least 20 hours per week. Chores include cleaning campsites, cleaning shower houses, and dealing with any disruptive campers after hours.
U.S. Forest Service
Being around or interacting with lots of people not really your thing? If you're looking for more remote positions, volunteering for the Forest Service may be right up your alley. Able bodies to help with trail maintenance and creation are always welcome. And, there are a lot more national forests out there than you might think. So, you're likely to find one within driving distance of your home. You might also look into state forests as their crews are usually even smaller.
You can find some positions through the same Volunteer.gov link listed in the National Parks section. It's best to contact your local forest or wildlife area directly, though. Here is a list of typical volunteer opportunities you can find with the Forest Service (according to their website):
- Clerical duties, such as answering phones and mail and assisting visitors in-person
- Camp hosts
- Volunteer managers
- Trail maintenance and building projects
- Monitor wilderness use as a Wilderness Steward
- Passport in Time volunteers (great for those that love history)
- Specialized areas, such as botany, fisheries, and watershed research
You can also get involved through the Forest Service Stewardship organization. This resource provides more in-depth information on the types of volunteer opportunities you can find with the Forest Service.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
As with the other national agencies above, you may be able to find volunteer opportunities for BLM areas through the Volunteer.gov website. Or, you can cut to the chase and search for your regional office to contact here. You can find more specific office contacts by clicking on your state's office link on the lefthand side of the page. Opportunities will be similar to those listed for other national agencies.
Land trusts: If you're especially into the conservation aspect of natural areas, consider giving some of your time to your local land trust. Some of the jobs you can find with them include:
- Clean-up hikes
- Removing invasive plant species
- Cleaning along highways
- Collecting and planting seeds
- Gardening duties, such as spring prep of soil and fall clean-up
Not familiar with your local land trusts? This page from the Land Trust Alliance will make your search easier.
Parks & Rec Departments: Even if you live in an urban area, you can still find plenty of volunteering opportunities in nature through city Parks & Recreation departments. You will have to contact them directly. Many will have a tab on their website listing current volunteer opportunities. This article from howstuffworks has some good information about what you can expect and what opportunities are generally available.
No matter how you decide to volunteer, those that work at and visit your local park or wildlife area will be grateful for your time! What is your favorite way to volunteer? We'd love to hear your ideas below in the comments sections!
Looking for more outdoor-related articles? Check these out next:
Trail Etiquette: How to Be Respectful on the Trail
An Introduction to Leave No Trace
How to Handle Emergencies on the Trail
For some amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.
Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.
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