How to Volunteer at a National Park

The International Volunteers-in-Parks Program of the NPS

Volunteering is not an experience restricted to U.S. citizens. The International Volunteers-in-Parks Program (IVIP) brings more than 100 volunteers from around the world into U.S. national parks each year. These visiting volunteers are students, scholars, researchers, environmentalists or park managers in their home countries.

Volunteers receive training in park management, wildlife work and aspects of environmental research. They are selected, in part, based on their ability to bring these new skills back to colleagues and scholars in their home countries. In return, the NPS "gains a fresh perspective on park management" as well as volunteer time [source: NPS IVIP].

International volunteers have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hone their skills, learn new aspects of their work and experience some of the great areas of the world. Japanese ecologist Naomi Kibe spent a year working in fire management in the Everglades and eventually developed her own education programs for park visitors. Canadian archeologist Peggy Donnelley was able to use her IVIP experience to track the movements of prehistoric peoples across what is now the U.S.-Canada border.

Eefje Smit, a native of the Netherlands, spent three months monitoring water quality and studying fish species preservation in Yellowstone National Park. The work involved climbing to high elevations -- a challenge "for a Dutch girl, used to elevation differences of less than a meter." But her work has important implications for sustaining the food chain in numerous locations. "To me," writes Smit, "the most important lesson is this: When you're interested and open-minded, the world is yours" [source: Smit].

If you're interested in becoming an international volunteer, plan ahead. International Volunteers-in-Parks volunteers are subject to normal U.S. immigration, passport and visa requirements, as well as medical insurance requirements, and IVIP applications typically take several months to be processed. You'll also need to work with local IVIP coordinators to match your training and desire with an appropriate park [source: IVIP].

On the next page, we'll look at some of the benefits of volunteering in the NPS.