A multitude of volunteer opportunities exist in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there are National Park Service volunteers serving at parks throughout the country.
The majority of volunteers live within driving distance of the parks they serve. However, there are a few unique opportunities available for those with RV’s.
There are two primary National Park Service volunteer programs for RVers. First, campground hosts live in their RV in National Park campgrounds and help visitors check-in and find their campsites. Second, Roadside Assistance volunteers live in a National Park and serve by assisting visitors and helping park rangers respond to various emergencies.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
I am in the Smokies volunteering for two months. With over 11 million visitors a year, Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited National Park in the country. As a Roadside Assistance volunteer with the National Park, I am provided an RV site in the Elkmont area of the park.
In exchange for the free campsite, I volunteer 32 hours per week. I am scheduled 8 hours per day for four days, followed by four days off. There is no typical day. Incidents and emergencies are as unpredictable as the number, type and activities of the visitors.
There is no cell phone service in the majority of the park. This means, visitors can not simply dial 911 to initiate an emergency response. Therefore, reports of incidents are frequently relayed by other visitors to a campground kiosk or visitor center. Additionally, many visitors naturally do not know their exact location, or the precise type of response needed.
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Typical Volunteer Day
I am provided a National Park Service volunteer vehicle equipped with supplies to assist visitors. Therefore, I start each day conducting self-initiated patrols of about forty miles of roadways, as well as several picnic areas and trail heads.
When bears wander near the roads, people have a tendency to get too close. Also, traffic can quickly come to a standstill as visitors stop to see the bear. I am responsible for managing the human-bear interactions, educating visitors, ensuring everyone remains at a safe distance, and facilitating traffic flow.
I even had the opportunity to help capture three bears:
Hands On With Smoky Mountain Bears
When emergencies occasionally arise, such as a car accident or injured hiker, I serve as a first responder to communicate details on type of incident and precise location until park rangers and paramedics arrive on scene. Then I primarily assist with traffic control.
For visitors experiencing mechanical issues with their vehicle, I assist in getting them back on the road if possible. Alternatively, I can also assist by identifying an exact location and communicating with our dispatch for a tow truck. This is especially helpful in all those locations with no cell phone service.
I also help with special events, help locate people separated from their group, and a long list of other things that help visitors, protect the resources of the park, and increase the efficiencies of the park rangers.
National Park Volunteer Benefits
My experience as a National Park Service volunteer in the Smokies has been very rewarding. Especially fulfilling is the positive feedback I receive from people taking time to thank us for our service, offer water when we are out on an accident scene for an extended time and the generally appreciative comments mentioned by visitors.
National Park Service volunteers who complete 250 hours of service are awarded an America the Beautiful pass providing free entrance to more than 2,000 national parks, forests and wildlife refuges for one-year.
Over 250,000 people have served as National Park Service volunteers since 1970. There are all types of volunteer positions available ranging from just a few hours to help with a special project or event to volunteering once per week at a trail head to a wide range of other duties that help protect people and resources within our National Parks.
If there is a national park near you, consider volunteering. Volunteer.gov is a great place to see some of the opportunities available. Here’s some general information: National Park Volunteers.
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