Tag Archives: volunteer vacations

Removing Tamarisk From Bright Angel Creek – A Volunteer Trip into the Grand Canyon

Michael (volunteer) hidden behind a large tamarisk tree

Michael (volunteer) hidden behind a large tamarisk tree

I don’t know what I thought removing tamarisk (an invasive non-native tree) would be like, but it wasn’t what I expected.  When you hear tamarisk, think riparian plant, a plant that loves to grow next to water.  Which means in order to remove it you need to be next to water and sometimes in the water.  Did I mention that the water is 40 degrees?  Oh, and this is a desert riparian zone, which means that most of the native plants surrounding the tamarisk are covered in thorns.  And the water is the Bright Angel Creek, which cuts through a deep narrow gorge in the middle of Grand Canyon.  Which is strikingly beautiful.  It is also difficult to navigate with the stream bed frequently disappearing into steep cliff faces, which lead to some delicate rock scrambles, climbing up while also trying to avoid prickly plants.  Basically, if my mom had known what is required in removing tamarisk she would have been worried all week.

Luckily we hiked in and out and worked for three days without any injuries beyond minor scrapes and sore muscles.

Mary Beth crossing Bright Angel Creek

Mary Beth crossing Bright Angel Creek

Did I mention that this trip was in the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Yea, that part was awesome.  It was a challenging but rewarding hike down into the canyon.  Six straight hours of walking down and down and down through different layers of rock until you reach the darkest steepest walls of granite schist in the inner gorge.  Unlike any other hike of that magnitude and remoteness, you are surprised to end up in a small village.  There are flush toilets, showers, telephones, cold beer, and restaurant reservations.  We were lucky enough to stay in the Trail Crew bunkhouse for the first three nights, which meant that we had a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and bathrooms.  The first night we almost jumped when the phone rang.  It was our crew leader’s husband calling with the scores from the football game.  Visiting the Grand Canyon as a volunteer is a special experience since you get to see behind the scenes and spend a week in the canyon for free.

Bright Angel Creek where we were removing tamarisk

Bright Angel Creek where we were removing tamarisk, you can see hikers on the trail river left and our group next to the creek river right.

After dinner we would go outside the bunkhouse and the cacti would be lit by the light from thousands of stars.  With narrow canyon walls we could only see a sliver of the night sky.  The canyon walls rose up like sky scrapers around us and I found myself feeling oddly claustrophobic in the middle of the great outdoors.  We fell asleep to the gurgling sounds of the creek and woke to the steady clomp of the mule train bringing in the day’s supplies to the canteen.

Della climbing back up to the North Kaibab Trail

Della climbing back up to the North Kaibab Trail

Our group of two National Park Service (NPS) employees, four volunteers, and two Student Conservation Association interns hiked down the South Kaibab Trail on Monday.  We spent Monday evening stretching our sore calf muscles and reviewing what we would be doing for the rest of the week, removing tamarisk along Bright Angel Creek.  Starting our day at 7:30 am, we worked in small teams, with the volunteers spotting the tamarisk and either pulling them out if they were just seedlings, or cutting them off at the base.  The NPS employees then painted the base of the tree with herbicide so that it would not re-sprout.  Tamarisk is an obstinate weed and several times we were cutting off new growth from previously treated trees.  After three full days of work our team removed over 400 tamarisk trees from the creek corridor.   It was far more than the NPS vegetation program staff were expecting to find and it felt satisfying to do such a thorough job.

Jay and Sharon at the South Rim having completed our hike up the South Kaibab Trail

Jay and Sharon at the South Rim having completed our hike up the South Kaibab Trail

Friday we hiked out the way we came in, up and up for almost eight hours.  Each step bringing us closer to civilization and all of the business that life on the rim entails.  I look forward to the next time we can go back below the rim, into that canyon, the immensity of which helps you recognize that you are just one small part of this great puzzle.

For more information on the Grand Canyon Vegetation Program click HERE.

To find volunteer opportunities at the Grand Canyon click HERE.



How To Find Volunteer Opportunities While Traveling in the U.S.

This is part of our (almost) weekly How To Series.

We are now volunteering an average of 15 hours per week while traveling by car throughout the United States and Canada.  We have volunteered for a wide variety of different projects and hopefully sharing how we get connected can help you get more involved.

Jay and Sharon at Materials for the Arts

Our volunteer project in New York with Materials for the Arts

First, a few caveats:

  1. One time volunteering is not a long term solution to any of our country’s challenges.  I encourage everyone to discover what they are passionate about and make a lasting commitment.
  2. If can often require a lot of planning on your part and on the part of the organization for just a few hours of volunteer work.  For me the planning and then sharing the experience afterwards is all part of the experience and makes it worthwhile.
  3. This advice may not be useful to non-U.S. citizens that are traveling in the U.S..  Some organizations have restrictions on how international visitors can volunteer their time.
sharon in big bad wolf costume

Volunteering at Wabi Sabi Thrift Store in Moab

What kind of volunteering can you get involved with on a one time or flexible basis?
  • Environmental clean ups
  • Trail building and maintenance
  • Sorting donations at a thrift store
  • Shelving and boxing food at a food bank
  • Assisting with nonprofit events such as festivals, charity runs, holiday galas, and silent auctions
  • National Days of Service  provide more diverse opportunities
This is not an exhaustive list, just some examples to get you thinking.
North Country Trail sign

Sign for National Trails Day, which we spent in Pennsylvania

What kind of volunteer will you NOT be able to do on a one time or flexible basis?

  • Mentoring
  • Tutoring kids in a school
  • Being an advocate for abused children
  • Working at a safe house for abused women
  • Holding a leadership role of any kind, such as being on a planning committee, a non-profit board, or coaching a team
The list above may seem obvious, but I think it is helpful to be aware of all the different ways you can be involved as a volunteer and recognize that some of these positions require a certain level of commitment and necessitate background checks and proper screening before you can get involved.
sharon and jay at the red balloon picnic

Jay and Sharon at the Red Balloon Picnic volunteer project with Phoenix Philanthropists

Ok, that said, here’s how I find volunteer opportunities while we are on the road.

  1. I start by looking for a volunteer center in the area we are headed.  Most volunteer centers are part of the HandsOn Network and you can look on their map to find one.
  2. Most volunteer center websites list a “project calendar” such as the one HERE on Volunteer Arlington’s website.
  3. I use the calendar to get an idea of which organizations are hosting events or use “date-specific” volunteers.  You can also browse organizations listed on the volunteer center website for more ideas or for a specific cause.  I usually do not sign up through the Volunteer Center website because it requires me to create an online account and since I am only passing through I do not want to deal with the hassle.
  4. Next I contact the organization directly.  I prefer email so that I have a paper trail.  I usually google the organization, review their website, and then find the name and email of the volunteer manager.
  5. I introduce myself and explain our trip and ask if we can either sign up for an established opportunity or if there is a one time or flexible opportunity that we can help with.  It is important to be specific and clear from the beginning that you are traveling and will not be able to make a weekly commitment.  It might help to list your skills or relevant experience.
If I do not find a volunteer center in the area I usually just google something like, “volunteer Grand Junction November 2011″.  By using the town name and the date I am more likely to find one time opportunities that it is easy to plug into.
Another option for event volunteering is to look on the Visitor Center or Chamber of Commerce website for a listing of local events.  Many local events are actually fundraisers for nonprofits and you can get contact information to ask about helping out.
If you know someone in the area you are traveling to they can also often help connect you to a local organization.  When you are introduced by a local that knows the organization it is much easier to get signed up to volunteer.
Also, if you are traveling but are interested in volunteering in one place for a week, month, or even a year there are a lot more options.
Sharon at Trail building in Prescott

Sharon at a trail building day in Prescott, Arizona

Organizations that have week-long volunteer projects:

Sharon cutting and Jay assisting on a backcountry trip with Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation

Organizations that have “volunteer vacations” you have to pay for:
If you have other suggestions for how to volunteer in the United States while traveling, please let me know by commenting on this post.