Chop your own wood, it will warm you twice. – Henry Ford
We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. – Winston Churchill
When you visit an Arkansas State Park, do you notice the condition of trails, campground, signs, exhibits, or roads? If it’s a weekend, do you notice people working who are not in uniform? Do you notice words like “interpretive volunteer” or “docent” on program schedules? If so, then you are experiencing the impact of the park’s volunteers, who are as valuable as the resources they assist in preserving and interpreting.
Just as “wood is the fuel that warms you twice,” the act of volunteering gives the individual so much more. For example, the volunteers of the Mount Magazine Action Group, a non-profit public charity, support Mount Magazine State Park’s conservation and education mission through trail maintenance, resource inventory, program assistance, funding, and other activities. Members of this group come from all walks of life and ages, and have two threads weaving them together: they love the park, and they enjoy volunteering.
“I joined the volunteer group in anticipation of retirement. A purely selfish reason because I knew that I would need something useful to do with my time after many years in the workforce. I have stayed in the group because I think what we do is important, making visitors feel welcome while they are at the park and assisting them in any way that we can,” states volunteer Beverly Duke, Mount Magazine Action Group secretary and Master Gardener.
As the director of the annual Mount Magazine Butterfly Festival, I remember the years when there were no volunteers, and I did most everything myself. What hard work that was! Now I have trained volunteers to help with every aspect, including front-line with the park visitors and behind the scenes. Some of these tasks include greeting and orienting visitors, collating festival schedules, and providing funding for kids’ activities, guest speakers, and concerts. The butterfly festival has grown in numbers with 50 percent more children participating since the organization began funding these activities.
According to volunteer Carolyn Morris, “Mount Magazine has fantastic facilities that very few places have, and I am so proud of it. This area has been very good to me, and I want to give back to my community whatever I can.”
Six people can do in three hours what it would take a single park interpreter several days to accomplish. But the experience is so much more rewarding than that. A volunteer organization gives people both the opportunity to help the park and satisfy their social needs. During the 6-year existence of our group, we have become a tight-knit family. Work days are a family reunion as much as they are for clearing a trail or orienting visitors during an event. We also learn new skills from each other as we work.
The volunteers of Arkansas State Parks often include more people in addition to a “friends” group. Parks state-wide have benefited from trail work projects completed by eagle, cub, boy scouts and girl scouts, Master Gardener chapters, and more recently, the Arkansas Master Naturalist program. These volunteers are typically professionals themselves, and are trained by professionals so they are ready to assist in whatever way park staff needs. These talented people give freely of their time and talent, and donate thousands of hours each year.
When you talk to a volunteer in an Arkansas State Park, you are speaking to someone who knows the park’s resources and is genuinely happy to see you. Their enthusiasm is often contagious. They are passionate about what they do and excited to share their skills. They are the reflection of the resource itself.
Volunteering has always been a part of my life, beginning when I was a teenager volunteering at the public library in my hometown. When I became an entomologist, I began volunteering for the butterfly festival in response to the needs of the new park and for myself. My role as an interpretive volunteer for Mount Magazine State Park has shaped my life, and my confidence is boosted with each project completed, each program I present, and each visitor who visits the park on a regular basis.
If you would like to volunteer at a state park, you will be welcomed with open arms. Part of the beauty of volunteering is flexibility of hours and tasks. Most often, you will be working with the park interpreter. If you live near a state park without a “friends” group, perhaps you could start one! It is your park, after all!
What are your strengths and abilities? Ask yourself what new skills you would like to learn, then turn around and give back. If you have time on your hands, how much would you be willing to give? Time is probably the most precious possession we own, and it’s intangible. Consider your time a living legacy. Leave a legacy of good work and volunteer in a state park this year. It will warm you twice.
(editor’s note: In 2008 over 11,908 volunteers contributed over 128,645 hours of work and expertise to Arkansas State Parks. We appreciate every minute they gave us. Contact your favorite Arkansas State Park to learn about volunteer opportunities.)
Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.