Volunteers are increasingly important as budgets decline

Refuge Notebook

Posted: Friday, April 14, 2006


  Kenai Refuge Student Conservation Association volunteers Dana Hornyak, left, and Mari Rice prepare for a campfire talk at Hidden Lake campground in this undated photo. Photo by Candace Ward

Kenai Refuge Student Conservation Association volunteers Dana Hornyak, left, and Mari Rice prepare for a campfire talk at Hidden Lake campground in this undated photo.

Photo by Candace Ward

Last week, KDLL-FM and KBBI-FM, both Kenai Peninsula public radio stations, conducted their spring membership drives.

While listener membership and support is vital to public radio, without volunteers contributing their time there would be no public radio to beam non-commercial programming to Kenai Peninsula communities. I took some vacation time last week to volunteer for the drive, operating the control board for a few hours and answering phones each day over the four-day drive.

I am also a volunteer host of a music program once or twice a month and usually participate in the semi-annual cleanup of a stretch of the Kenai Spur Highway that the KDLL-FM has adopted. While it is probably not obvious at first glance, I believe there are many similarities between that radio station and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

For the most part, our Refuge operating budget consists of appropriated funds authorized by Congress and the president. Funds outside the legislative process, such as grants from non-government organizations like the National Wildlife Foundation, are infrequent and usually only provide matching funds or part of a project cost.

In recent years, our basic operational expenses have risen substantially with fuel and utility costs, along with the cost of supplies, materials and equipment.

Funds from Congress have decreased significantly at the same time, so we are continually re-examining and modifying our priorities. As a result, we and other government agencies are increasingly relying on volunteers to keep public lands and facilities operating, just as public radio stations are increasingly relying on volunteers for a variety of operations.

Refuge volunteers help in a wide variety of ways by conducting interpretive and environmental education programs, cleaning outhouses, assisting with biological projects, helping with cabin maintenance and construction, trail maintenance among others.

Did you know, for example, that the hosts at Hidden Lake and Upper Skilak campgrounds are typically not Alaska residents, but volunteers from the Lower 48?

We have repeatedly tried to recruit Alaskans for these host positions, without success. Usually, Alaskans tell us they do not want to be “tied down” for the entire summer and are willing to volunteer only for a few weeks. That is understandable taking full advantage of Alaska’s summers is addictive.

However, if fuel costs continue to rise, I am not sure we will continue to have Lower 48 volunteers willing to make the long journey to the Kenai Peninsula to host at our campgrounds.If that happens, we may have to re-evaluate and possibly change our policy on campground hosts.

The Kenai Refuge is not the only facility that has tried to increase volunteer numbers in recent years. The National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service and Alaska State Parks have all attempted to recruit additional volunteers as budgets decrease and visitor demands increase.

We are hoping the large number of “baby boomers” nearing retirement will provide a new and invigorated pool of volunteers in the near future. After all, volunteering is a great way to make a worthwhile contribution and meet interesting people in the process.

If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Refuge, call 262-7021.

Bill Kent has been the Supervisory Park Ranger at Kenai Refuge since April, 1991.

Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on our website http://kenai.fws.gov/. You can check on new bird arrivals or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline (907) 262-2300.

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