A National Recreation Area is made up of the lands surrounding a large water reservoir, which is used by visitors to engage in water-based activities, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. These areas are managed by the National Park Service or Forest Service. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is managed by the staff and volunteers of the National Park Service.
“Our volunteers are invaluable,” said Nancy Bernard, manager of the Lake Mead volunteer program, “I mean, we can’t even say how much they really do help us out. We had about 650 volunteers last year, that gave us about just shy of 50,000 hours. We’re talking about a lot of assistance to the park. I would say that it’s like having another 30 to 40 extra employees full time helping us at the park level.”
While volunteers cannot outright replace park staff, their role is to augment the jobs done by paid employees to improve the quality of work and maintain the Recreation Area, according to Bernard.
Volunteer work includes both long-term roles and one-time commitments. The work itself ranges from collecting seeds within the park service greenhouse, watering and maintaining vegetation, trash collection, maintaining campgrounds, hosting campgrounds, working in and around the visitor center and much more, according to Bernard and the National Park Service.
According to Bernard, the ages of volunteers also have a wide range, but many of the long-term volunteers can be broken down into two distinct age groups.
“You have what we would call young adults, under, let’s say, 35,” Bernard said. “They’re the ones that are looking for careers in the Park Service. To them, having some volunteer experience under their belt helps them with their resumes to find careers with the federal government or on public lands. Then the other kind of demographic is our retirees. They probably are not looking at careers, but possibly early on in their life they visited national parks or national forests or other public lands. Now, they want to give back or, you know, have a little slice of pie that kind of gives them a feeling of what it would have been like to have that career.”
Regardless of age or length of volunteering, Bernard said that volunteers bring enthusiasm with them when they come to work at the lake’s recreation area.
“I think it’s easier to motivate volunteers,” Bernard said. “The biggest rule of volunteer management having to do with volunteers is just ask, that’s all you have to do, is ask and they’ll come.”