With increased cutbacks to trails, wilderness areas, national parks, interpretive programs and so on, more work in maintaining and protecting our public lands is falling upon non-profit agencies.
Obviously, the well-known long trails are an example where non-profit groups take the lead in protecting these lands.
But many wilderness areas have small, very grass-root agencies that do phenomenal work in maintaining these lands. Public lands that the government can (or will) no longer provide the adequate resources needed for protection and maintenance.
Your local open space or city park may very well have a similar group.
Whether volunteer agencies should do much of what can not be done by local, state and federal governments is another debate. One outside the scope of these thoughts.
The fact is these groups do increasingly more of the heavy lifting when it comes to protecting, preserving and maintaining our public lands.
But these groups do not operate in a vacuum. These groups need money, volunteer hours, skills that can be provided… They need you.
It is very easy to talk about being a lover of wilderness, but I also think it is important to give back in some way, too.
Here are some ways to give back that a volunteer agency will appreciate…
Donations are obviously something every non-profit needs. The donations are usually tax-deductible. Many groups will have the ability to set up a sustaining membership donation. Less overhead for the non-profit group and less of a hassle for the person donating funds. Not every person can donate money, and personal funds are limited, but always good to donate to cause or an organization that fits a person’s values.
- Work in kind
Non-profits, especially smaller ones, have much the same needs as any business, but fewer resources and people to perform them. Accounting, IT work, or even something as simple as stuffing envelopes…all work to be done.
When I was unemployed one winter a few years back, I spent the afternoon stuffing envelopes for The Colorado Trail Foundation’s newsletter. About fifteen or twenty of us were there and helped fulfill a needed task. Someone who loves the trails, but may not have the ability to get out and directly work on them, can do tasks such as these if time is available.
Many of the people who are active outdoors have skill sets in their career that an outdoor organization may need. In my own case, I have worked in form or another as an IT professional for my day job since 1999. Upgrading memory on a laptop, installing programs, general troubleshooting (esp during presentations!), etc. all have been tasks I’ve done over the years for volunteer groups.
Other people I volunteer with have GIS skills, web design, finance knowledge or other skills they can bring to the table.
Sure many people out there can contribute a skill set, too.
- Trail work
The most obvious way to give back with an outdoor group is to actually work outdoors. Trail work is a large umbrella that covers everything from building trails to clearing blowdowns to re-seeding native vegetation. Trail projects are typically in beautiful areas. The overnight projects in particular often have some great food, beer and has the feel of a working vacation. The projects encompass many levels of physical exertion and skills needed. There are often projects that are family friendly as well. Great way to introduce children to outdoor stewardship!
Every experienced outdoors person has some outdoor skill sets that people would love to learn more about. Camp cooking? Photography? Hiking with children? Lightweight backpacking? Birding? Etc. Etc. Give a presentation on it.
Many times, local outdoor stores or companies will often donate schwag to give away as prizes for a raffle for after the presentation. Another way to raise funds. I once saw a presentation on animal tracks in the Boulder Open Space. The two women who gave the talk were very passionate and knowledgable about the subject. Fascinating to learn how many species and types of animals existed in my “backyard” and then being able to identify them through the tracks. And there was a raffle to go with it.
Whether it is trying to get the Land Water Conservation Fund reinstated , helping to prevent land grabs from bought-and-sold-politicians on behalf of economic interests, or preventing corporations from exploiting loopholes to steal our collective heritage, political activism is the bread and butter of protecting the wild spaces. Seldom pretty, sometimes controversial, but always needed.
Write your congress critter, get the word out to friends, use your “bully pulpit” via social media or writing, make a pain in the ass of yourself.
The wild lands won’t stay wild unless we all do something to protect them.
These are just some of the ways to give back to the outdoors and the groups that help protect, preserve and maintain our public lands. If you can, try to give back.