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Best & Worst Experiences Volunteering?


yourpcgeek49

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We will be "hitting the road" this fall and are planning to volunteer/workcamp part of the time. We enjoy nature, history, Native American culture, etc.

 

What have been the places that you have absolutely loved - and why?

 

Where would you avoid -- not even to send your worst enemy to that place?

 

I know that everyone has their own personality & niche, but knowing your experiences can help us evaluate (or simply eliminate) some options. All comments would be appreciated...

 

Mark & Judith

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Ron and I have spent our past 8+ years with the USFWS at National Wildlife Refuges. We have always been treated like gold for our efforts on their part. We commit to facilities that ask no more than 24hours per person each week but often do more hours. We have enjoyed every one. We generally enjoy smaller refugees with no more than a couple volunteer sites. Many of our friends enjoy refuges where there are many. (Santa Ana NWR in the Rio Grande has 30+ RV sites)

Make sure that you thourghly understand your job and get it confirmed in a written email before you go.

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We've volunteered at four US Fish & Wildlife locations, four state parks (OR & WA) and a Nature Conservancy preserve. Our favorite will always be the Lee Metcalf NWR in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. Great people and incredible scenery. The Oregon Coast, the Black Hills, and Southern Arizona are all tied for second. Our least favorite was Brazoria NWR in Texas. Mosquitoes, fire ants, rattlesnakes, alligators, feral pigs, chemical plants, and (at that time) poor management were too much - we left after one month.

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Since you enjoy history I would suggest you look for interpretative volunteering. You'd love it, as we did. We've done all sorts of gigs but our favorites were giving lighthouse tours in Oregon and Michigan. We were fascinated with the history of the area, keepers and lighthouses.

 

Many national and state parks use interpreters for their programs and sometimes you even get to dress up for the part. :) They are used in demonstrating the trials of the early pioneers, in areas of the Oregon Trail, at ghost towns (Bodie State Park in California comes to mind), and in many other situations. It's a fun time and your audience is always in awe of the past.

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We have volunteered as campground hosts at both state parks and Army Crops of engineers.

 

We much prefer the COE. No bathroom cleaning, some interpretive work and very flexible job functions.

 

Only 24 hours per week per Couple, although we work more because we love it.

 

We are presently on our fourth summer at the location we love.

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Our very first experience will be this September at Flaming Gorge in the Red Canyon visitor center. We opted for this one but it was a very hard choice between it and the Wyoming Territorial Prison visitor center (we'll probably do that one next year if timing works out.) My understanding is that Flaming Gorge is still looking for some volunteers due to some cancellations.

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Posted Today, 09:47 AM

"We have volunteered as campground hosts at both state parks and Army Crops of engineers.

 

We much prefer the COE. No bathroom cleaning, some interpretive work and very flexible job functions."

 

Just be clear what your jobs are. Several COE parks do require bathroom cleaning

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We have volunteered in 4 different states, for state parks. All were good experiences in CA, NV, MT & NC. Rangers are always glad to have you and the hours are acceptable. I would not volunteer for Xanterra in Yellowstone campgrounds. A couple we traveled with were offered a job there cleaning 14 bathrooms per day and no cart provided, you had to walk between bathrooms and it could be a mile apart. They turned it down.

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We have been on continuous volunteering duty since mid-2013. So far all national parks with duties alternating between campground host (North Rim, Grand Canyon) and Visitor Center Host (Big Bend, TX and Ft Frederica, St Simons Island, GA).

 

What you like vs what anyone else may enjoy can be drastically different. We loved campground hosting but we know it is not for everybody - the daily "chores" of fire pit cleaning and checking campers in and out plus being on call 24 hours (we were gotten out of bed only once in two summers but we did have many 9 and 10pm requests for help) can be fatiguing. Of course the "chores" are different for every park, even withing the same agency such as the national parks. Some will ask you to ask/advise people to follow the rules when you observe them breaking those rules. But some people, no matter how pleasant you may be about it, take offence to being asked to abide by the rules and will write nasty comment cards about you.

 

Visitor center hosting is heavy on public interaction but in a different way than dealing with campers. Visitor center hosts almost always work for the Interpretive division and do rely on your skills and knowledge about history, culture, flora and fauna. And many times, not always, you will be making sales for the book store/gift shop as well as collecting fees for the park. In addition to the criminal background check that everybody does on you, you will also probably get bonded. Some parks pay for this, some ask you to pay for it.

 

Another factor is park size and location. Some parks can be quite remote, our Big Bend experience taught us about strategic shopping since the closest full-service grocery store was 109 miles away. And while we were at a big name park, the Grand Canyon, we were on the North Rim, a visitorship of 500,000 compared to the South Rim's 5,000,000. The South Rim was too intense for our taste.

 

We have found that as much as we have enjoyed each of the jobs at the three parks we have been at, when our three or five months were up, we were ready to do something different. I think you will just have to put your toe in the water and try a few different jobs/parks and see what floats your boat.

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We began our first tour as RV volunteers in October, 2000 and we completed our most recent tour in September, 2014. We have completed a total of 28 different volunteer positions, at 9 different national wildlife refuges, state parks in 7 states, 5 national parks, a grass airfield, a hunter check station, a state forestry tree farm, and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as a few others. We have done things from maintenance, to construction, to interpretation, to tractor operation, and campground host. We have loved the things we have done and leaned a great deal and had experiences that we could only dream of. It is very difficult to say what was the very best, although most memorable was probably Everglades NP but the worst was clearly Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery. You can check out our experiences by visiting this page on our website. When you consider the number of places we volunteered and the length of time spent, to have only one truly bad experience is in my opinion a remarkable thing.

 

edit............... Edited 38 to read 28 as it should have said.

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Posted Today, 09:47 AM

"We have volunteered as campground hosts at both state parks and Army Crops of engineers.

 

We much prefer the COE. No bathroom cleaning, some interpretive work and very flexible job functions."

 

Just be clear what your jobs are. Several COE parks do require bathroom cleaning

Good idea for everyone to note.

 

Read the job description carefully. In the COE. the job can vary widely from facility to facility.

 

We were well aware of the job functions before we accepted.

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Some gigs had to be short.

I suppose that depends upon what you consider to be short. The shortest was six weeks and there were two of those and there were also two of two months. Most were three months and a few were four months. We were fulltimers for 11 1/2 years and usually spent at least 6 months as resident volunteers and often as much as 8 months of each year.

 

Edit............. I just reread my post and there is a typo in it. Rather than 38, I should have said 28. :wub:

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I have enjoyed my experiences at 3 different federal agencies, all slightly different. I like doing visitor center work and winter assignments. The one challenge can be the other volunteers you work with and nothing can be planned in advance for that other than your own attitude. I am finding that some couples have one of the spouses with physical limitations which can put an extra load on the remaining volunteers but often the other spouse is picking up those duties.

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Welcome to the Escapee forums. Good of you to join us!

Just wondering what the requirements are for volunteering? Is it necessary to be a US citizen (I am Cdn).

In most cases you do, but there are exceptions. I don't know of any federal agencies that accept non-US citizens but it don't hurt to contact them. I believe that some state park systems do accept Canadians and I'd bet that most non-profits that use volunteers but are not part of any government would accept you.

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Thanks for sharing all of your experiences and insights. I hope others will keep them rolling in!

 

"Make sure that you thoroughly understand your job and get it confirmed in a written email before you go." -- Great advice!

 

"Mosquitoes, fire ants, rattlesnakes, alligators,....." Oh, MY!

 

"Flaming Gorge in the Red Canyon visitor center" - that one looks great! We won't be ready for September, but are keeping it on our radar.

 

JPerry - Was the North Rim as absolutely fantastic as I imagine it would be? How did you get that gig?

 

Camp Host assignments -- is it common to have "emergency calls" late in the evening and at night?

 

What is your experience on how far in advance you need to plan & apply for the various volunteer positions?

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Hi everyone---newbie here! Just wondering what the requirements are for volunteering? Is it necessary to be a US citizen (I am Cdn).

Canadians and other non-citizens can volunteer for the NPS through the International Volunteers in Parks program and can likely volunteer with other federal agencies through similar programs. The problem is that most Canadians do not want to jump through the hoops to get the proper/required visa as explained in this webpage and without the proper visa they can not receive a free campsite or other benefits that RV volunteers expect to receive.

 

The rules established for non-citizens to work and what is considered as compensation for work are not just applicable to the parks or government agencies. They apply to all types of exchange of services for any type of compensation and I believe were originally established to prevent exploitation of individuals. That said, there seems to be very little regard for this countries immigration laws even among our own citizens. There are sanctuary cities and states that will not cooperate with federal enforcement authorities and even states that issue driver's licenses to undocumented or improperly documented individuals. I know of two state parks in two different states that accept Canadian camp hosts. In my discussions with the hosts, they said the park management coached them not to mention volunteering or workamping during their entry interview at the border, but to simply state that they were coming to the U.S. on vacation. The fact that an agency or organization is willing to accept a non-citizen without the proper visa or other documents as an RV volunteer that receives compensation does not change the fact that it is a violation of federal law.

 

I know several Canadians that volunteer for Habitat for Humanity at the same locations we do, but you do not receive a free RV site. In fact, you pay for the utilities or find your own place to stay.

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PC Geek,

 

Yes, the North Rim was a sweet deal. We did two summers there. But after being so remote for nearly 15 months we're going to do something else for awhile. Getting to the nearest Walmart in less than three hours is high on our list of requirements at the moment.

 

But I have to admit that being nestled amongst giant ponderosa pines at 8200 ft elevation, not using the A/C once all summer, has a certain appeal that negates the great distances to civilization.

 

From what I have seen so far, the needs of campers have a lot to do with the campground. Places like the North Rim are not 'easy access' and tend to get people that are experienced and pretty self-sufficient and experienced at being courteous to their fellow campers. Other campgrounds, like the South Rim, can get people that just got off the airplane, stopped at the first Walmart they came to out of the airport and bought their camping equipment on the way to the campground. There is a tendency for them to arrive late at night, make a lot of racket trying to figure out how to erect their tent, all the while getting in a party. The knocks on you door varies from those complaining about the noise to the neophites wanting you to give them matches at 4 in the morning (not made up, this really happened).

 

True emergencies do happen. We had heart attacks, strokes, heat strokes (hikers coming up the North Kaibab Trail), cuts from knives/hatchets, In our two summers we had three people leave the campground in body bags and several in life-flight hellicopters.

 

As far as how to get the job --- www.volunteer.gov. We started putting our applications in a little more than a year in advance.

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Just spent some time looking through the website Volunteer.gov

 

Many of the volunteer postings state the expectation of working 32 hours per week. Is that per person or per couple in exchange for the campsite?

 

There is cetainly a variance in what is expected of volunteers!

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W

 

Just spent some time looking through the website Volunteer.gov

Many of the volunteer postings state the expectation of working 30 hours per week. Is that per person or per couple in exchange for the campsite?

There is cetainly a variance in what is expected of volunteers!

We've worked as little as 16 hrs per person, 3 at 20 per person and a couple 24 per person. At one state park we worked 5 days then off 2 for a month till a second couple came in. This summer will be the first time we will be working 32 hrs per person for 10 weeks in Alaska.

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We have worked a NWR twice and two different Texas state parks and all were 25 hours per week for the site (total between my wife and I.). If they want 30 per week for the site we look elsewhere.

 

We generally put in 30 to 40 hours per week but at our choosing.

 

Ken

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Everyone's limit is different. Our maximum is 24 hours per week for a free campsite. Any more than that and we look elsewhere.

 

We will accept no more than a MANDTORY 24 hours per week maximum, however if we like the position, we will often donate more.

 

The present position we are filling is 24 hours per week mandatory, but will often put in 40! It is not a job, but fun! We often "work" on our days "off."

 

The real secret is finding a spot that "fits" what you enjoy.

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There definitly seems to be a trend to requiring more hours and there seems to be more positions requiring more cleaning and more physical duties. I have not minded cleaning bathrooms a little but the requirement seems to be more and more. One place had a large no. of volunteers at the gate for camper check in and we did the bathroom on a rotational basis that included the employees.

 

Budgets for a lot of these agencies are down and I belive that is an explantion for the rise in volunteer positions but some places are better at utilizing volunteers than others.

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