The State We’re In: Love The Land? Try A Volunteer Vacation

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

If your idea of summer paradise is lounging on a beach, soaking up sun and snoozing in the ocean breezes, stop reading now!

But if you think any vacation that involves sitting around (or lying prone) in the sand is just plain
B-O-R-I-N-G, read on!

Physically active folks looking for a fun and rewarding outdoor vacation may want to consider a volunteer conservation trip. These unique vacations combine camping in national or state parks with service projects to help beautify the land and make the parks more safe and accessible.

This summer, there are more volunteer vacation offerings than ever before, from building trails in the Grand Canyon to clearing debris washed up on remote Alaskan beaches following the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Volunteer conservation trips need muscle more than knowledge: things like trail work, clearing fallen trees and branches, picking up litter and debris, removing invasive plants, maintaining gardens, and sprucing up fences and buildings.

But volunteers often get access to parts of parks and forests not open to the public. And they almost always have free time to enjoy the beautiful places they’re helping.

One of the biggest volunteer vacation programs is Sierra Club National Outings, which donates about 27,000 volunteer work-hours per year to state and federal land agencies. If the agencies had to pay for the same labor, it would cost over $400,000!

Sierra Club’s “adventures with a cause” include everything from research projects at whale calving grounds in Maui to archaeological site restoration in New Mexico.

The American Hiking Society’s program matches volunteers with trail improvement projects all over the country. The Society has a great website that allows prospective volunteers to search trips by various criteria, including job difficulty and accommodation options, like tents, cabins or lodges.

The American Conservation Experience recently opened up trips previously reserved for Americorps and long-term volunteers. These trips include volunteer vacations to Catalina Island off the coast of California, the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Volunteers must pay for the trips, but the fees are inexpensive and include accommodations and food. Travel is extra.

According to organizers, among the rewards reaped by volunteer vacationers are satisfaction with a job well done and a sense of “ownership” of the areas where they’ve worked. The Sierra Club reports that volunteers often return to the same park year after year, either to continue a favorite project or see how their work is holding up.

“Volunteers should expect a positive, fulfilling experience,” said Tom Wilson, director of the Volunteer Vacations program at American Conservation Experience. “It can also be challenging, but overcoming these challenges leads to a sense of achievement.”

If the thought of adventure, a desire to help a good cause and meeting like-minded people appeals to you, try a volunteer vacation!

To learn about Sierra Club trips, go to http://content.sierraclub.org/outings/national/volunteer-vacations. To check out the American Hiking Society’s offerings, visit http://www.americanhiking.org/volunteer-vacations. And for the American Conservation Experience, go to www.conservationvacations.org.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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