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Grateful for Our Volunteers

December 09, 2020 12:00 AM

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Volunteers from Reading Hospital help maintain the gardens at Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center. Photo by the Nolde Forest Friends Group.

As we get ready to turn the page on a strange and challenging year, we can’t help but feel a newfound sense of gratitude.

Things that we took for granted in everyday life as we went about our normal routines were suddenly apparent, such as a stocked grocery store, a health care system full of everyday heroes, and the abundance and availability of our natural places.

There are many things that we find ourselves grateful for this year; but for many, the ability to get outdoors for both physical and mental health is at the top of the list.

Pennsylvania state parks and forests saw record-breaking attendance since the pandemic began last spring, and that trend is expected to continue.

While DCNR is excited to see the increased interest in Pennsylvania’s outdoor spaces, we know that with the crowds also comes an impact to our natural resources.

These new impacts are created on top of a back-log of repairs and work that needs to be done to conserve public lands and infrastructure.

Dedicated and caring volunteers help us meet the challenges of maintaining our natural places. So, when DCNR looks back on things that we are grateful for, our volunteers come to the top of mind.

Volunteering Impacted This Year, But Continued

The Friends of Ohiopyle State Park purchased and installed two new playground sets in Ohiopyle’s campground this fall.

While many volunteer activities were halted during spring and early summer, they were back up and running once stay-at-home restrictions were lifted.

With safety precautions in place, our volunteers rose to the challenge, from campground hosts welcoming and answering questions from campers in completely filled campgrounds; to volunteers that helped pick up trash to get our natural spaces open and ready for the next day; to trail crews that helped make our trails accessible to state park and forest visitors.

However, while volunteer work was happening across state parks and forests this past year, it was significantly reduced compared to previous years due to COVID-19 restrictions.

So far in 2020, volunteers logged 88,631 hours of service compared to 2019 which recorded 147,235 of service.

While significantly less than the previous year, the number of volunteer hours in 2020 is still impressive given the circumstances.

Volunteers at Pinchot State Forest

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Newly planted shrubs by the The Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society in the Moon Lake Recreation Area at Pinchot State Forest.

One volunteer project of note happened in Pinchot State Forest in the northeast this year.

The Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society planted more than 50 shrubs of grey dogwood, serviceberry, and elderberry in the Moon Lake Recreation Area.

This is the first step of a larger project to include a native pollinator garden with identification signs and a larger two-acre meadow to be done with cooperation from state forest district staff and the DCNR Bureau of Forestry Ecological Services section.

The shrubs were supposed to be planted during the spring, but COVID-19 mitigation efforts delayed the planting by these dedicated volunteers until the fall.

The Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society has been a long-time partner with Pinchot State Forest; and has helped with the installation of blue bird and kestrel boxes, the creation of a birding brochure, and the holding of events to educate others on birds, native plants, and the night sky in the Moon Lake Recreation Area.

“With all of the work that needs to happen in our state forest district, we can’t get to some projects in a timely manner. The boots on the ground and hands in the dirt enthusiasm and commitment of our volunteers -- like the Greater Wyoming Valley Audubon Society -- help get projects accomplished more quickly,” said Nicholas Lylo, Pinchot State Forest District Forester. “Volunteers are a keystone to what gets done on the ground.”

About DCNR Volunteers

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Volunteers assist with planting trees in the Fuller Lake day use area of Pine Grove Furnace State Park on National Public Lands Day.

Volunteers have been assisting with DCNR’s mission under the formal Conservation Volunteer Program since 1995, when the agency was formed.

Volunteers can range from individuals participating in a volunteer project as part of an official group, club, or Friends group; as individuals who sign up to help with a specific event; or as individuals who just pick up a piece of trash while out hiking on a trail.

While volunteering as part of a group or event provides DCNR with a way to keep track of the hours of service by our volunteers, many hours go unrecorded by visitors to state parks and forests who just want to help protect our public natural spaces.

Most logged volunteer hours are for service at Pennsylvania state parks, which offer a variety organized programs centered around volunteering, including:

  • Monitoring bird nest boxes
  • Campground assistance
  • Organized park volunteer days

Many state parks also have organized Friends groups, which center their volunteer activities on a specific park.

Friends groups can be found helping to run programs and events, working on trails, cutting firewood, decorating for holidays, gardening, removing graffiti, and more in state parks.

There are other volunteer opportunities within DCNR, including at state forests.

Some Pennsylvania state forests also have organized Friends groups. A major focus for these Friends groups is helping to improve the trails within state forests.

Volunteers also can be found in other areas of DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry, including assisting with forest health and urban forestry.

The DCNR Bureau of Geological Survey also relies on volunteers, many who are retirees of the survey, to continue mapping and compiling data about Pennsylvania’s geologic resources.

Some have even assisted survey staff on active field projects and accompanied staff in the field.

How to Become A DCNR Volunteer

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This outdoor classroom at Nockamixon State Park was built and installed this summer by Tim Grindle from Troop 67 for his eagle scout badge.

No matter your interest, DCNR probably has a volunteer opportunity for you.

DCNR’s volunteers are people who care about protecting and enhancing our natural resources.

People of all ages can participate, and you can volunteer as a group or as an individual.

College students can gain work experience by volunteering, there are opportunities to perform community service for scouts, and for many, it’s an opportunity to build and foster friendships and relationships in a meaningful way.

If you are interested in supporting a specific area of DCNR, you can reach out to individual state parks or forests; or contact DCNR directly.

You can also sign up for DCNR’s Conservation Volunteer Program, which matches your  interests and abilities with appropriate outdoor projects.

The Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF) is another way to support DCNR and its mission.
PPFF is a DCNR partner and is a statewide nonprofit organization that provides citizens the opportunity to become active and involved volunteers in the park and forest system.

You can also check DCNR’s calendar of events for specific volunteer events – when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted again.

Thank you to the more than 11,000 volunteers we have registered, thank you to the volunteers who are not registered, and thank you for thinking about volunteering with DCNR!

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