Forging New Networks to Better Serve Our Lands

Sunrise filtering through the green leaves on the trees lining the Natchez Trace Parkway
Natchez Trace Parkway — Marc Muench/NPS

Shenandoah National Park sprawls from north to south along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, over rolling hills of grass and wildflowers, through lush forests and the habitats of black bear, brook trout, deer, and wild turkey. Visitors enjoy hundreds of trails and dozens of campgrounds throughout the year, making Shenandoah National Park one of the country’s most visited national parks in the system.

But observant visitors on the Rocky Mount and Gap Run trails last summer might have crossed paths with more than fellow hikers and wildlife. Volunteering in Shenandoah’s backcountry, a group of young adults from Conservation Legacy’s Great Appalachian Valley Conservation Corps (GAVCC) diligently removed dead trees and branches from the trail, cleared vegetation, and created water bars so that rain water efficiently runs off the trail. The skill and hard work of these conservation corps members like these are essential to keeping Shenandoah National Park and many others first class, and for providing safe and memorable visitor experiences for thousands of visitors each year.

Milky Way night sky over Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Christopher K Eaton/NPS

During the summer of 2018, conservation corps members at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Canyon National Park, Natchez Trace Parkway, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, all volunteered their time and expertise to improving our parks. These volunteers were members of Conservation Legacy – a national organization dedicated to serving and supporting local conservation corps.

Amy Sovocool, chief external affairs officer for Conservation Legacy, witnesses the importance of these programs each day: “Dirty hands and sore muscles are temporary, and it is pride, grit and sense of purpose that endures. Whether it is building bridges, installing retaining walls, repairing turnpikes or moving big rocks - repairing infrastructure in our national parks provides unique opportunities for young Americans to develop a lifelong stewardship ethic and connection to these special places.”

"Dirty hands and sore muscles are temporary, and it is pride, grit and sense of purpose that endures."

In 2018, the National Park Foundation partnered with Conservation Legacy to launch an innovative conservation corps project across five national parks. These Love Your Park conservation corps broke away from traditional corps models by employing a liaison at each corps. The liaisons were corps members with the additional responsibility of connecting with local communities, engaging and recruiting volunteers to further the impact in the parks, and better capturing the story and importance of what conservation corps accomplish.

These liaisons came away from the program with a deep respect and appreciation for the work that corps members do in national parks and for the benefits they provide local communities. In Shenandoah National Park, the Conservation Legacy took part in a volunteer engagement event with volunteers from the local Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC). The volunteers from PATC were all seasoned volunteers with 20+ years of corps experience.

A close up on pick axes and shoes of volunteer workers along the Appalachian Trail
National Park Service

These PATC and Conservation Legacy members worked together on sections of trail and hosted a volunteer event in the local community to garner additional volunteer support for their work. The liaison reported how the meaningful the event was, as she saw how a younger generation would be able to continue the work once she herself no longer could. Above simply maintaining the trails, these events created new connections with community members with similar passions for our public lands.  

The National Park Foundation continues to work with Conservation Legacy and other partners as the starting phase of Love Your Park – a national network for partners to share best practices on volunteerism and service corps work.

Volunteer at a park near you, or learn more about the Conservation Legacy and its incredible work with communities throughout the country. Who knows, you might just see a Conservation Legacy Corps hard at work on your next #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque adventure!

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