This Summer, Become An Environmental Volun-Tourist!

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by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Has the economy taken a bite out of your summer vacation plans? Is the family trip around the world on hold? Consider volunteering on an eco-vacation!

Volunteers can build trails, band birds, conduct wildlife surveys or lead tours within our National Wildlife Refuge system. New Jersey’s five National Wildlife Refuges – Great Swamp, Wallkill, Cape May, Edwin B. Forsythe and Supawna Meadows – all have periodic opportunities for full-time or part-time work. Live-in volunteer opportunities are available at various refuges around the country. Check out www.fws.gov/refuges/mediatipsheet/January_2010/01.html for more information.

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Many environmental and conservation groups also offer volunteer vacation opportunities. The Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/outings/national/service.aspx), for example, has options as close as New York City and as far away as Alaska.

Right now, the Sierra Club has 62 volunteer trips scheduled during the rest of 2010, with 34 of those in the summer. Typically, trip participants restore wilderness areas, maintain trails, clean up trash and remove non-native plants. However, there are a few unique opportunities, too, such as assisting with research at whale calving grounds in Maui, and restoring archaeological sites in New Mexico!

The American Hiking Society has 29 summer trips listed on their website (visit www.americanhiking.org/Get-Involved/Volunteer-Vacations or call 800-972-8608), most on federal lands in western states. The projects are rated from “easy” – like mowing 25 miles of the North Country National Scenic Trail in the Sheyenne National Grasslands, North Dakota – to “very strenuous” like camping and hiking to trail construction and repair sites along the Lakes and South Coldwater Trails at St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington.

To venture farther afield, check out the Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org/expedition), with over 60 “Earthwatch Expeditions” around the globe this summer. Volunteers assist scientists with research, ranging from studying climate change patterns to tracking the habits of rare animals. Costs range from a few hundred dollars for short-term, local projects to over $5,000 for longer stays in exotic locales like Namibia or Kenya. For trip-planning advice, you can speak directly to a volunteer advisor at 800-776-0188 or info@earthwatch.org.

Other international groups include “A Broader View Volunteers” (www.abroaderview.org), which offers travel with a purpose all over the world. Among the eco-volunteer opportunities this summer are assignments in national parks in Belize and Ecuador, helping to rehabilitate animals and reincorporate them into their natural habitat. A Broader View offers customized programs with flexible start dates and assignments to suit your skills and preferences.

Globe Aware (www.globeaware.org) develops locally-identified, one- to two-week “mini-Peace Corps” projects in Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa. These trips offer volunteers the opportunity to assist local residents in preserving and reviving their natural environment.

Sure, sitting around a pool is relaxing! But how cool would it be to contribute a lasting, natural legacy? Consider becoming a “volun-tourist.” You’ll build memories that will last a lifetime, and strengthen your own bond with the natural world!

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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