Early this past April, Wilderness Volunteers kicked off our 2021 project season. It had been over a year since we were able to field a project due to the pandemic and we crept towards April 4th with cautious hope and managed expectations. Here are some takeaways from our first service project this year.

Different but very doable. Because we all have a year plus of experience, knowledge, and information under our belts in pandemic living, in my experience, it wasn’t difficult to transition back into a Wilderness Volunteers project. Was it different? Absolutely. Would it have been challenging even 9 months ago? Likely yes. Is it still worth it? Completely.

    It’s been my observation that by this point in time, people have a pretty good handle on managing daily activities in the pandemic. People have also determined which outdoor experiences and adventures work for them and how to engage in these activities (ideally with prudence and regard for the safety of others). People are also yearning for the joy and fulfillment that comes with volunteering their time to your public lands, meeting new people, and learning more about a specific area/region.

While there are extra steps involved in committing to a 2021 Wilderness Volunteers project, helping the National Park Service with various projects took me exactly where I haven’t been in quite some time: outside, surrounded by a nature I had not yet experienced, alongside volunteers from all over working together to accomplish a shared task.

Flexibility is key. We all know that being flexible in life can help you overcome some tricky times (and even turn them into positive ones), but when being a part of a WV project this year, it’s more important than ever. Before and during our project, our volunteer crew had to come prepared and remain nimble.

We managed last-minute NPS changes to the occupancy of the facility we were using, dealt with a nixed workday due to lightning/thunderstorms, and were understanding as we all got the hang of how to complete camp chores in a safely and practically.
    Through our group’s ability to pivot, we were able to tackle two projects in one day, safely splitting the crew so one could work on maintenance and care of a historic cemetery while the others could help repaint the exterior of a frequently used National Park Service facility. This worked out well because everyone was able to work on the project they desired that day, and one group was able to circle back and assist the other.

I miss the faces from all of the places. One of the major highlights of participating in a WV project is the chance to meet volunteers from all over the country. You can make friends you’ll visit during future travels, contacts to reach out to for suggestions about their hometown, or maybe a new pal you’ll plan to do a project with in the future. I’ve seen some lovely friendships blossom on WV projects and I’ve made my way to places suggested and loved by fellow volunteers.

    Leading the Buffalo National River project illuminated how much I missed the meeting and getting to know volunteers on service projects over the last year. We had a splendid crew of nine hailing from eight different states! Hearing everyone’s experiences of how the last year has changed their lives was both fascinating and rewarding. Each volunteer on this crew brought something valuable and unique to the table, whether in the form of extensive flora or fauna knowledge, gear recommendations, super cool sounding travel recommendations, and their own outdoor experiences. Getting to know the volunteers over a week-long service project is like putting together a puzzle of one-of-a-kind pieces that came together completing an unforgettable image.

It’s like riding a bike. The great news is that getting back into the project routine was fairly seamless by the end of day two even with the added precautions Wilderness Volunteers is taking to mitigate COVID-19. I was able to establish my routine, determine the overall pace of our volunteer crew, and enjoy the various moments that make volunteering highly enjoyable.

    Experiencing the Buffalo National River project was the natural marriage of life since March 2020 and the 14 plus projects I’ve done during my time with Wilderness Volunteers. For every moment I had to remind myself to put a mask back on, keep an appropriate distance from others or thoroughly wash my hands, I also enjoyed a stunning view, was present in a moment in the wilderness that felt magical, or had a hearty laugh from shared stories at base camp.

I’d like to thank the volunteers of the 2021 Buffalo National River project for making my first service project back since the pandemic began very fruitful. Each one made this project a resounding success: their helpful nature, their kindness to each other, their grace when things didn’t go quite according to plan, and the great qualities they contributed to our group. I look forward to working alongside you again!