In the National Park Service, the acronym "VIP" usually stands for "Volunteers in Parks," but recent awards confirm an alternative meaning could be "Very Impressive Performance." The recipients of the 2009 George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service were honored at a recent ceremony, and their work was impressive indeed.
The awards were started eight years ago to recognize the time, talent, innovation, and hard
work contributed to national parks through the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program. The recognition is named for the late George B. Hartzog, Jr. and his wife Helen. The VIP program was created during Mr. Hartzog's tenure as Director of the National Park Service, which was from 1964 to 1972.
After his retirement, the Hartzogs established a fund to support the program and honor the efforts of volunteers. Mrs. Hartzog and the Hartzog children attended the awards ceremony last week in Washington, D.C. and congratulated each recipient.
Being selected for the awards is a definite honor, because there's plenty of competition. Last year, 196,000 volunteers gave 5.9 million hours of their time assisting the National Park Service. NPS Deputy Director Mickey Fearn congratulated the recipients and recognized the contributions made by all park volunteers. “Volunteers increase the energy of the National Park Service and allow us to continue to do what needs to be done, including all those things that could not be done without them."
Richard Meissner, one of the volunteers honored, summed up the spirit of the event. “I, and most volunteers, consider volunteering in a national park a privilege, a unique opportunity. . . . Where else can one work at a lighthouse, in a desert, at the home of an important American? We VIPs feel truly blessed, and appreciated.”
There are several categories for the award to honor appropriate categories of service. The NPS provided the following recap of each recipient's accomplishments:
The Hartzog Individual Volunteer Award was presented to Tony Valois from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California. Valois’ expertise in computer programming, photography, and botany has been a tremendous asset to the park. Valois combined his talents to create a web-based photographic guide to the park’s wildflowers. The guide contains 4,000 photographers he took of more than 700 species.
The website provides a “flower-finder” tool for identifying flowers based on simple characteristics. Valois has devoted more than 5,000 hours to building and improving the guide and recently transferred the entire database to a new system with a simple search key and mobile phone applications. Valois created the guide while serving in his primary volunteer role as a campground host.
The Hartzog Youth Volunteer Award was given to 16-year-old Holly Marsh from Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in Minnesota. Marsh worked 270 hours as a volunteer last year. Her knowledge, enthusiasm, and interpersonal skills contributed greatly to numerous park programs. She co-lead Junior Ranger Programs and helped 2100 children receive their badges, interacted with countless visitors at the Mississippi River Visitor Center, served as the park's mascot, Freddy the Flathead Catfish, at special events, assisted with the Bike with a Ranger Program, photographed events for the park’s website and brochures, and became certified in CPR and First Aid.
The Hartzog Enduring Service Award was presented to Richard Meissner from Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina. Meissner has served as the park’s full time volunteer coordinator for ten years. His volunteers provide the park with the equivalent of 12 additional staff members.
Meissner recruits, selects, trains, and supervisors volunteers for the Harkers Island Visitor Center, two satellite visitor centers, the Portsmouth Village Historic District, the Cape Lookout Historic District, cabin lodges, and to assist staff with visitor services and resource management duties. Meissner personally assists with maintenance, exhibit design, special events, and living history programs.
The Hartzog Volunteer Group Award was given to the Glacier Centennial Program from Glacier National Park in Montana. To celebrate the park’s 100th anniversary, a group of more than 75 volunteers from 43 different organizations planned and implemented a community-driven Centennial Program.
The volunteers invested more than 1,000 hours of service and embraced the mission of celebrating the park’s rich history and inspiring personal connections. The group coordinated 108 centennial activities with 58 various organizations. They also helped 61 local businesses reduce their carbon footprint, developed 184 centennial products with 47 vendors, sponsored an art contest with 113 artists, and produced a book of selected stories with contributions from 240 authors.
The Hartzog Park Volunteer Program Award went to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area Volunteers-In-Parks Program. Last year, the park’s 4,050 volunteers donated 122,200 hours to meaningful projects in maintenance, visitor services, education, resource protection, law enforcement, and administration.
The VIPs monitored invasive mussels, inventoried abandoned mines, and rid the park of over 33 tons of garbage. In addition to maintaining existing volunteer activities, the park created, marketed, recruited, and implemented two new programs. Operation Zero (OZ): Citizens Removing & Eliminating Waste (CREW) engaged community groups and families in cleaning coves around the lake by boat. The Resource Steward Program used volunteers to collect data about the park’s cultural and natural resources.
If the accomplishments of the award recipients have inspired you to consider volunteering in a park, you'll find details about the VIP program on a NPS website that includes a brochure about the V.I. P. program, an application form, and a database that allows you to search for volunteer opportunities by states or by individual parks.