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VIPs recognized for assisting parks

VIPs recognized for assisting parks

WASHINGTON  — An extraordinary group of VIPs (Volunteers-In-Parks) donated 7.9 million hours of service to the National Park Service in 2015. These 440,000 people performed an astonishing variety of tasks which enhanced both park operations and the visitor experience.

This week, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation honored the recipients of the annual Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service at a ceremony in Washington, DC.

“National Park Service volunteers are amazing,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “They are willing to do anything and everything for parks and ask for nothing in return.  Among many other things, they welcome visitors, lead tours, maintain trails, conduct research, plant gardens, monitor wildlife, demonstrate arts and crafts, and perform historical reenactments, and they do it all with unwavering enthusiasm. They are an inspiration to us all.”

The award is named in honor of former National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, Jr. and his wife Nancy. Hartzog created the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program in 1970 with 300 volunteers. Since then, more than 4.3 million people have volunteered more than 1.4 billion hours of service.

Following are the recipients of the 2015 Hartzog Awards:

The Hartzog Award for Outstanding Individual Volunteer was presented to Vinh Le-Si from the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

Le-Si contributed more than 1,000 hours to the park last year and was a driving force behind many projects that directly benefit park visitors. He staffed the visitor center, was a Billy Goat Trail steward, a member of the bike patrol, a part of the park’s Bike Loaner Program, and a crew member on the reproduction mule-pulled canal boat. He was also the chief organizer of the volunteer boat maintenance team which identified and addressed the maintenance needs of the boat.

The Hartzog Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer was given to Mark Murillo from Chamizal National Memorial.

In 2015, Murillo volunteered almost 300 hours. He also served as a mentor for three other high school students who contributed another combined 600 hours. Murillo and the other high school volunteers routinely worked in the park’s visitor center on weekends and assisted with numerous interpretive programs and special events.

Murillo’s most meaningful contribution last year was the creation of a four-minute, bilingual (English and Spanish) children’s video about the park. He wrote the script, cast, acted in, and directed the video. The video creatively recants the internationally significant history of the Chamizal border dispute between the United States and Mexico and its ultimate peaceful resolution. In a story format appropriate for children, the video provides the opportunity for the park’s young visitors to grasp a complex history of dispute and diplomacy.

The Hartzog Award for Outstanding Enduring Service went to Saburo and Anne Sasaki from Manzanar National Historic Site.

In April 1942, when Saburo Sasaki was just seven-years old, he and his family were uprooted from their farm in the San Fernando Valley and incarcerated at the Manzanar Internment Camp. For three years and seven months, the Sasakis family were among more than 11,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by their own government during World War II. Based solely on their Japanese ancestry, and without Due Process, they were exiled to Manzanar and lived in a camp encircled by barbed wire and guard towers.

For each of the past 12 years, Saburo and his wife Ann have travelled more than 2,200 miles to return to Mazanar and share his story with park visitors. Together they have donated more than 3,000 hours of service to the park. From April to June, they present interpretive and educational programs for park visitors. As a former incarceree, Saburo is able to connect visitors to the site and its stories in deeply personal ways. He displays exceptional generosity of spirit and his candor, humor, and honesty touch even the most detached or defensive visitor.

The Hartzog Award for Outstanding Youth Volunteer Group was given to the School-to-Work Building Trades Program from Denali National Park and Preserve.

In 2015, the Building Trades class consisted of 24 Tri-Valley High School students. They volunteered a total of 3,552 hours and built two seasonal housing cabins for Denali. Since its inception in 1998, the Building Trades classes from Tri-Valley School have built multiple park structures and replaced more than 20 old seasonal housing cabins.

The Building Trades class is a partnership between the park and the local school district. In addition to providing students with job skills, Building Trades teaches practical applications for geometry, math, physics, and language arts. The park supplies building materials, tools, and a maintenance supervisor and funds one-half of a teacher’s salary.

Although the work is performed outdoors, two hours a day in temperatures that can sink as low as 45 degrees below zero, the Building Trades class is the most popular class in school and inspired a similar program another high school in Alaska.

The Hartzog Award for Outstanding Volunteer Group was presented to the Cades Cove Bike Patrol from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Bike Patrol has led to an increase in both visitor ridership and safety during the 41 times each year that the Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motor vehicles. Every Wednesday and Saturday from May through September, the popular road is open only to bicyclists and walkers from sunrise to 10 a.m., providing an opportunity to enjoy the scenic road at a slower pace.

Patrol members are a strong presence on the 11-mile road. They take turns roving by bike and manning designated stations in an effort to assist with traffic management issues, advise of hazards, respond to accidents, serve as first responders, administer first aid, make bike repairs, and manage wildlife encounters.

The Hartzog Award for Outstanding Park Volunteer Program went to Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

The park’s volunteer program plays an integral role helping the park connect with urban youth, restore habitat, facilitate community engagement, and work with partners. In 2015, the park increased the number of volunteers from the previous year by 34-percent to 8,629 VIPs. Those VIPs contributed 32,060 hours, which was a 9-perent increase over 2014.

Last year, the park’s volunteer program initiated a gathering of more than two dozen land managers and volunteer coordinators to coordinate efforts to improve river habitat. The meeting resulted in new partnerships and a growing network of support. One successful result came from an increased effort to engage youth. More than 300 volunteers devoted 3,000 hours to education programs for 11,000 urban youth on riverboats, canoes, and along the shore about the history, science, and recreational opportunities of the Mississippi River. In turn, 3,300 of those youth became volunteers and collected native seeds, started plant nurseries, made seed bombs for hard to reach places along the river, and labeled storm drains for public awareness as part of the river rehab program.

Other park volunteers conducted citizen science projects, collecting data about birds, dragonflies, otters, Monarch butterflies, cottonwoods, and water quality. VIPs also engaged tens of thousands of visitors at the park visitor center, though the Amtrak Trails and Rails Program, at the Minnesota State Fair, and during biking, fishing, and canoeing programs.

SOURCE: National Park Service press release

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About Rebecca Smith

Rebecca Smith is a Wisconsin native currently living in Illinois with her husband, Eric, and two dogs, Maggie and Grace. She enjoys hiking, biking, kayaking and, of course, camping in cabins and park models.

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