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HomeNewsLocal newsNot for Profit: Park Friends Need Walk-in Volunteers

Not for Profit: Park Friends Need Walk-in Volunteers

Sarah FordIf you’re vacationing or living on St. John with a morning to spare, the Friends of V.I. National Park has a volunteer trail crew spot for you.

Just show up at the park’s maintenance building parking lot near Mongoose Junction Shopping Center at 8 a.m. or at Cinnamon Bay Campground Pavilion at 8:15 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays until mid-April. The walk-up volunteer program began in mid-November.

“We try to keep it low key. It’s usually a clearing project of some sort,” Friends volunteer coordinator Sarah Ford said.

Ford picks up the volunteers at the maintenance yard and Cinnamon Bay to transport them to whatever area needs work. After a morning of work, she returns them to where she picked them up.

When volunteering, bring water and a snack, wear closed-toed shoes and brush-appropriate attire, and bring gloves if you have them.

Ford said the number of volunteers is on the increase now that the winter tourism season is ramping up. However, she said even early in the season, when the number of volunteers is sparse, she reliably stops at the pickup points on her appointed schedule.

If you belong to a group that would like to do a project at the park on what’s termed a volunteer vacation, that’s possible too. While the Tuesday and Thursday drop-in volunteers focus on maintaining the park’s 30 miles of trails, clearing the myriad ruins tucked back in the bush and keeping the historic buildings clear of vegetation, groups often take on projects like the one currently underway outside the park’s Cinnamon Bay archeology museum.

According to Ford, volunteers from Beloit College in Wisconsin are spending two weeks digging artifacts out of a small plot of land so the park can install a sign that gives some of the area’s history but also tells visitors what to do if they find an artifact.

“Leave stuff where they find it,” Ford said.

She said park policy calls for an archeological evaluation when the park needs to dig up the ground.

The volunteer efforts fill a big gap at the park, park archeologist Ken Wild said.

Wild is the only person on staff in the archeology department, and he said without the volunteers to dig and catalogue what they find, the job wouldn’t get done.

“Archeology is so labor intensive,” he said.

As for the volunteer efforts in maintaining trails and clearing ruins, Ford said the park just doesn’t have the staff to keep up with the job.

Ford arrived in November to serve as the Friends volunteer coordinator. While the job was seasonal, the Friends recently made it a permanent job so Ford will be on island through the summer. She said she’ll work with the Friends student trail crews during those months.

Ford, 26, has the credentials for the job. After growing up in Rutherfordton, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington with a bachelor’s degree in recreation management.

She needed an internship to complete her degree so she found one with the Southwest Conservation Corps in Tuscon, Arizona. And she worked two summers with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

A friend spotted the job posting for the Friends trail coordinator and Ford jumped at the opportunity.

“I’m overjoyed to have the opportunity to be here,” she said.

The Friends are happy to have her too.

“Sarah has great technical trail construction, maintenance and repair skills. She is very safety conscience and keeps the work going on the trails in a very productive, yet fun, manner. She is very enthusiastic, especially about trails, and imparts that to those that work with her,” Friends President Joe Kessler said.

Ford said in addition to learning the different methods for maintaining the park’s trails, she said she’s been busy learning about St. John.

“I want to expand my knowledge of the Caribbean,” she said.

Information on volunteering is available by calling the Friends at 340-779-4940 or visiting the Friends online at www.friendsvinp.org. 

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