Northeast Ohio is blessed with natural beauty and many vibrant parks organizations. Most of those organizations accomplish great things, all year long, with the help of volunteers. Below are a few specifics from the Medina, Portage, and Stark County parks districts. If none of those are “local” to you, inquire about volunteer opportunities within your county (or even city) park system.
Be aware that most organizations require their volunteers to complete an application and interview with a volunteer coordinator before being put to work. Most park systems also require their volunteers submit to background checks. The bottom line: they need good volunteers, and those volunteers have considerable responsibility and clout in the organizations.
Medina County Park District
The Medina County Park District seeks to enhance the quality of life through education, conservation and the protection of natural resources.
Angie Strock, volunteer coordinator for the Medina County Park system, said the district’s Trail Monitors enjoy the flexibility they have as volunteers. Trail monitors can choose when and where they go to volunteer in the parks, reporting back to the district office anything they find that’s noteworthy in the district’s 28 properties. Trail monitors carry backpacks identifying them as volunteers with the park district, and in addition to reporting downed trees and other trail hazards and picking up litter, monitors are often approached by park visitors who have questions about trail conditions, seasonal animal activity, wildflower identification, and of course, directions.
Trail monitors are also invited to help out with trail construction projects, and to be the “face” of the park district at various events, where they may supervise craft and game activities for children, or provide information to the public about the district.
To learn about volunteer opportunities in the Medina County Park District, contact Strock at [email protected] or call 330-239-4814.
Portage Park District
The Mission of the Portage Park District is to conserve Portage County’s natural and cultural heritage. While Portage Park District volunteers handle much of the trail maintenance, invasive species removal and litter pick-up duties necessary in and along the district’s ten properties and trails, Executive Director Christine Craycroft said, “We always look to see what the particular skills and interests of the volunteers are,” because many different opportunities are available to volunteers.
In addition to trail maintenance work, volunteers help by lending their photography and videography skills and educational expertise, among other things. The park district has also benefited from construction designed and executed as Eagle Scout projects, Craycroft added.
To inquire about volunteering in the Portage Park District, download a volunteer application form at http://www.portageparkdistrict.org/images/Volunteer_Form.pdf or call 330.297.7728.
Stark County Park District
The mission of the Stark County Park District is to acquire, preserve, and develop natural areas for passive recreation, conservation, education, and nature appreciation.
Stark County Park District Volunteer Coordinator Cindy Zutavern said many opportunities in the parks are open to volunteers who are under 18. In fact, the minimum age for most volunteer positions is 16, and certain service group projects are typically conducted by much younger volunteers who are members of Key Clubs and scouting groups. Find out more at the district’s website or call 330.409.8993.
While the ‘usual’ volunteer opportunities exist in Stark County parks, a few are rather unusual. For example, volunteers dress as the park’s mascot, a frog named FeLeap, and participate in numerous events throughout the year. Volunteers willing to commit to a considerable amount of training can learn to captain the park district’s pontoon boat. Also, a variety of very specific roles are filled by volunteers at the district’s wildlife rehabilitation center. While it’s a great way for interested individuals to learn about wildlife management and animal behavior, Zutavern cautions that it’s not for everyone, as it involves “a lot of dirty, hard work.”
Still, the rewards of volunteering are many. Park volunteers can take advantage of many unique learning opportunities and help protect and enjoy our natural resources while gaining considerable experience – and enjoyment – at the same time.