How to Volunteer at a National Park

Benefits of Being an NPS Volunteer

As with any volunteer experience, those who volunteer for the National Park Service will likely receive benefits proportional to their dedication -- in addition to one or two surprises. Benefits of volunteering can range from the simple change of scenery to the deeply spiritual experience of knowing that you have changed your world for the better.

With so many opportunities for walking, climbing, rafting and hiking -- and so many excuses to explore new areas -- volunteers may discover that their personal fitness improves. In fact, the Department of the Interior actively promotes NPS volunteering and recreation as a way of improving your health [source: DOI]. Exposure to sunshine directly affects your level of serotonin (low levels of this brain chemical can cause depression), so NPS volunteering is a great way to shake off the blues as well as the physical blahs [source: McConnell].

National Park land may provide an all-too-rare encounter with nature. For a city dweller, park land can offer a refuge of solitude and quiet. It's easy to forget it, but humans may be the species that most needs to have land preserved.

That said, not every national park is outside of the city. It's a volunteer job, for example, to help visitors locate the names of loved ones on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. [source: McIntosh]. This kind of work offers a way to pay tribute to fallen friends -- or to give peace to personal memories.

Working with the NPS provides a connection to local and national heritage. The National Park system includes numerous landmarks -- way stations on the Underground Railroad, the location of the first women's suffrage meeting, Civil War battlegrounds and the landscapes with which Ansel Adams changed photography [sources: Aboard the Underground Railroad, NPS Civil War Web Site, Women's Rights National Park, Yosemite National Park/Ansel Adams Gallery]. Volunteers are likely to learn something new about the people and events that inspire them most. Nothing compares to the experience of walking in your hero's footsteps.

Finally, every volunteer gets the wonderful sensation of having worked to help the world -- by contributing to our store of knowledge or simply by cleaning up. All told, if you love a place, there's no better way to show it than to work for its preservation. If you've never experienced the abiding love of a beautiful corner of the world, maybe it's time to let the NPS show you what you're missing.

To learn more, visit the links below.

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  • Aboard the Underground Railroad: A National Register Travel Itinerary. National Park Service. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • Ansel Adams Gallery. "Visit Us in Yosemite National Park." 2008. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • Kibe, Naomi. "Everglades National Park." NPS IVIP. 2008. (Accessed (5/18/09)
  • McConnell, Harvey. "Brain Serotonin Production Directly Related to Degree of Sunlight." Lancet. December 5, 2002. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • McIntosh, Phyllis. "Labor of Love." National Park. January 1, 2004. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • National Park Service. "Award Winners," "About," "America the Beautiful Program," "International Volunteers-in-Parks Program," "NPS IVIP Application Process," "Yellowstone," "Youth Programs." NPS. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • National Park Service Civil War Web Site. "Civil War Parks." NPS. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • National Park Service Junior Rangers. "The Ranger Zone." NPS. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • Smit, Eefje. "Yellowstone." NPS IVIP. 2007. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • U.S. Department of the Interior. "Recreation." DOI Budget Highlights. 2005. (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • "Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument," "Aztec Ruins National Park," "Mount Rainier National Park Volunteer Coordinator." (Accessed 5/18/09)
  • Women's Rights National Park. (Accessed 5/18/09)