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Repair & Restoration

Out for Spring! Male Grizzly in Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

This post is dedicated to all of those who volunteer (more than sixty million adults in the USA in 2021). From girl-scout cookie sellers to those working to feed and house the homeless, to those who help friends and family, and (the focus of this blog) to those who help repair and restore our wonderful, at risk, and varied natural resources. Without this unpaid and often unseen assistance, without the billions of hours given in time, effort, and expertise each year, all species and our world would be “less good” by far!

Soda Butte Valley. Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

When I was with the Whatcom Land Trust, one long debated discussion was on the need to do restoration, maintenance, and general stewardship on our properties. On one side were those who felt the land would take care of itself. It had, for sure, done so for millions of years. On the other side of the discussion, the need to help and offset impacts from nature itself, but more often from man. Three hundred plus years ago (in the United States), before the Europeans came along and razed the forests, built dams, contaminated our air, and paved the world, maybe then nature could have repaired its own? Certainly not now.

And for anyone facing the costs of stewardship, including nonprofits, tribes, state and federal agencies, the question is “How do you pay for that?” We can say that the pandemic messed up the world, but honestly, even before that, there was never enough workforce or money to do the maintenance and general stewardship to help nature heal.

Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.

Watcher in the Woods! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Thank goodness for volunteers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of stewardship (and so much more). At the Land Trust, students, Field Friday, and other work parties, and more than ninety land stewards helped with clean-ups, evasive species removal, and monitoring. Volunteers helped with mailings, events, and painting the office. Most of the legal and accounting work was done pro-bon0, and volunteer expertise was used on almost all restoration work. With American Whitewater, an organization I worked with for decades, local affiliate club members and Regional Directors all provided volunteer efforts by working on specific projects and often representing the organization at local meetings and efforts. With both organizations, board members were volunteers and that holds for the vast majority of nonprofit board members nationally.

Sky & Mountain! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Everyone benefits from volunteer efforts, and I am especially grateful for those who donate their time, expertise, and love for the land – and who understand that if you want wilderness, wild free-roaming species and free-flowing rivers, or just a quiet place in the woods near your home, you have to work for it.

Madison River Valley. Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

When traveling through amazing, beautiful places, the thought about how much that culvert costs, or that bridge, or how much restoration was needed is rarely first among your early considerations. But it was on my mind during my recent trip to Yellowstone National Park (created in 1872). Especially as I witnessed the major construction and massive damage that came from last June’s floods, a five-hundred-year event with the northern part of the park receiving seven-and-a-half to nine-and-a-half inches of rain and snowmelt in a twenty-four-hour period.

Late Winter Sky! Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

Gone was the osprey nest in Lamar Canyon, along with most of the canyon’s wall. Pebble Creek and the campground remains mostly a pile of rock and dirt as it awaits future restoration. Red lights and major construction in the park! First ever for me. And even one of my favorite restaurants in Cooke City, Beds & Buns, is gone (a victim I am sure of the loss of the 2022 tourist season). Gone was the spectacular drive along the Gardiner River Canyon, replaced by a new four-mile road from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs with its own amazing views of the Absoroka Range and looking down on the Hot Springs.

When the great fires hit Yellowstone in 1988, and when thirty percent of the park (793,000 acres) went up in flames, over 10,000 volunteers stepped in to help with restoration. And annually, over 100,000 volunteer hours are given to manage campgrounds, do research, pick up trash, and more in Yellowstone. So, I expect that volunteer work will play a huge role in this most recent rebirth. Outside of the park, volunteerism has already started, with contributions of more than $146,000 being made to the Yellowstone Community Fund to assist those affected by the floods.

Not Quite Spring! Upper Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

The extensive damage done in the park goes far beyond what volunteers can fix. Repairing and restoring the park is expected to take from three to five years to complete, and to cost in excess of $1 billion dollars. But the park has jumped to the task, restoring power and wastewater within forty-eight hours, and opening the south loop of the park nine days after the flooding. In just four months, the Park built a completely new four-mile road from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs. It cost more than twenty-million dollars, but when was the last time anyone built a new road in four months? I swear that the Pennsylvania turnpike has been under major construction since before I went to college (maybe let the NPS take a shot there!). The new road is beautiful, and a necessary one for those living in Silver Gate or Cooke City. With this road out, locals needed to take the Beartooth Highway to Red Bluff or the Chief Joseph Highway to Cody. Both are a long, long drive, and closed for a better part of the year.

Gardiner River Overview. Yellowstone National Park, 2023.

The new road has magnificent views. Is it as beautiful as the original road through the Gardiner River Canyon? Don’t know and I may be the wrong person to ask as someone who loves to drive along and hang out in river canyons. Kudos to the park and its many partners who completed this and made it a worthwhile scenic drive. Thank you! Thank you! Both for the road and showing that, in an emergency, people, organizations and agencies can come together and get it done!

So, as a potential volunteer and someone who loves our parks and wild lands, what can you do?

Contact Yellowstone National Park’s Volunteer Coordinator and offer your time and expertise. Be ready to work for the environment, wilderness, and our National Parks. If you can’t do that, contact those seeking donations and provide financial support. Best of all, visit Yellowstone and its surrounding communities. Stay and eat locally, buy gas, be friendly, and help these communities rebuild from the past year. As you travel through the park, understand what happened, what has been done, what still needs to be done – and tell the rangers and volunteers you meet how important their work is, and how thrilled you are to be in the park. And of course, don’t pet the buffalo, feed the bears, or peer into Old Faithful!

Out of the Woods! Yellowstone National Park., 2023.


· At the end of fiscal year 2022, an estimated $22.3 billion of repair need existed on roads, buildings, utility systems, and other structures and facilities across the National Park System. The Great American Outdoors Act’s National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund, passed in 2020, provides up to $1.3 billion per year for five years through 2025, to make significant enhancements in national parks.

· For 2024, National Volunteer Week will be observed from Sunday, April 14 through Saturday, April 20.

· In 2021, over sixty-six million volunteers donated over three-and-a-half million hours with the US Forest Service, and over three-hundred-thousand research, trail-building, and program leading volunteers (2018 latest data available) with the National Park Service. This is down from pre-pandemic days when in 2017 more than seventy-seven million volunteer hours were logged nationally.

· One of my favorite restaurants in Cooke City was “Buns & Beds.” Besides great sandwiches and barbeque, the owners were natives of my hometown of Pittsburgh, and huge Steeler fans. I am so sorry to see they are gone. I wish them the best in whatever they do next.

· An estimated 23.2 percent of Americans or more than 60.7 million people formally volunteered with organizations between September 2020 and 2021. In total, these volunteers served an estimated 4.1 billion hours with an economic value of $122.9 billion. The rate of Americans informally helping others remained stable between 2019 and 2021. Fifty-one percent of Americans or 124.7 million people informally helped their neighbors between September 2020 and 2021. Eighty-five percent of volunteers donate to the nonprofits they volunteer for. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs, and almost sixty percent of companies provide paid time off for employee volunteer work.

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