How to Become a National Park Service Volunteer

by | May 24, 2020 | Volunteering

Each year, hundreds of thousands of people volunteer with the National Park Service (NPS) through the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) program. A diverse group, NPS volunteers have varying ages, abilities, skills, and knowledge. Volunteer commitments vary with some individuals participating once a year as part of a large group (think a sponsored clean-up) or may invest large amounts of personal time (multiple days a week).

Why I chose to become an NPS volunteer

National Parks have always been a large part of my life. When I was young, my family took an annual road trip to National Parks. While we always had a final destination in mind (e.g., Yellowstone, Acadia, etc.), we had just as much fun on the journey and stopped off at many other national, state, and local public lands along the way. These NPS adventures didn’t stop when I was a kid – I’m now making great strides on my quest to visit all of the 419+ NPS units in my lifetime.

On a solo road trip last summer to visit 20+ NPS units in the Southwest, I began to question whether I was giving enough back to the parks that have given so much to me. I have been a Web Volunteer for the NPS since 2017 and while I’ve enjoyed the work I have done, the volunteer opportunities are limited. I also make financial donations to the Parks and nonprofit groups that support them. But was it enough? After some reflection, I decided it wasn’t. In all honestly, I wasn’t even giving back a fraction of what the parks have given to me through family memories, personal reflection, adventure, and most of all these days, solitude when life gets a little too crazy.

So, I made a commitment that when we settled back in DC a few months after that trip that I would spend at least one day a month volunteering in-park opportunities at my fingertips. Within a few months of returning to DC, I am now volunteering twice a month at the Washington Monument – and I love it! Also, we are always looking for volunteers, so I encourage you locals to sign up so you can join me on the National Mall!

Where do I find National Park Service volunteer opportunities?

 

After you have made the decision to volunteer, I suggest heading directly to www.Volunteer.gov to learn more about opportunities in your area. This official website bills itself as America’s Natural and Cultural Resources Volunteer Portal. Here you will find volunteer opportunities for the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other federal public land agencies. 

When I started my search for a volunteer opportunity, I used the “Find Opportunities by State” feature to see available opportunities in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. You can also use the “Find Opportunities” search and drop-down area to narrow down your search by agency, location, and length of time.

After you find an opportunity, you can click on the title to learn more. The full description of the posting includes information on the hours available, difficulty, suitability, requirements, and volunteer activities. The listing will also have the volunteer coordinator’s contact information so that you can reach out to them with any questions you may have.

Once you are ready, click the Apply Now button at the bottom of the listing to begin your journey as a National Park Service VIP!

Will I receive training?

Of course! As a Volunteer-in-Park, most opportunities require you to interface with visitors, rangers, and the park itself on a regular basis. The Park Rangers want to make sure that you are well prepared for your volunteer activities and will provide you with the necessary training to succeed in your position. While each National Park handles its training program differently, I wanted to share my NPS VIP training with you so that you can understand how some parks handle their training.

My volunteer position at the Washington Monument (WAMO) is one of many volunteer opportunities within the National Mall and Memorial Parks (NAMA) administration. This means, that they have a large need for and pool of volunteers. They hold a yearly training that occurs on two Saturdays (allowing people who work fulltime to attend). The training covers a variety of topics including the history of NAMA, interpretive talks, and safety. Each volunteer is given training material specific to their volunteer post (WAMO for me) so that they can learn more about the monument. 

After the “classroom” portion of the training was complete, we were given our volunteer uniforms and scheduled “shadow” days with experienced volunteers. The experienced volunteers guided us on everything from how to sign in/out to the most frequently asked questions. After a few of these days, we were added to the volunteer rotation. 

Also, each park has a volunteer coordinator who will walk you through the process, schedule your shifts, and support you along the way. I wanted to give a quick shout-out to New and Jason who coordinate the NAMA volunteers – they are amazing!

What is the time committment?

The time commitment varies for each NPS VIP. Some volunteers, like myself, can set their own schedules, while other opportunities are for a specific date or range of time. For example, US Forest Service campground host volunteers can have volunteer placements as long as 6 months.

Each park sets its own time commitment guidelines for each volunteer position. The National Mall and Memorial Parks prefer us to work at least 8 hours a month. Our schedules are broken into 4-hour blocks: morning or afternoon. Personally, I like to volunteer every other Sunday morning. I can switch my schedule around as needed, but the routine of every other week has really allowed me to build this commitment into my schedule. 

What are the benefits to volunteering?

Obviously, the biggest benefit to becoming a National Park Service Volunteer-in-Park is that service to the park and visitors. My volunteer experience has been personally fulfilling. I enjoy sharing stories with visitors about the Washington Monument and helping them get the most out of the visit to DC.

Additionally, volunteers who log 250 service hours a year are eligible to receive an America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass. Similar to other Federal Lands passes (i.e. National Park Pass), this pass “covers entrance and/or standard amenity fees on lands managed by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation, and the Department of Agriculture’s USDA Forest Service. Passes are valid for one year from the issuance date.”

What are you waiting for?

Head on over to www.Volunteer.gov to learn about public lands volunteer opportunities in your area!

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