Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Park Volunteer Groups- Find Your Niche

Work with birds of prey at the Schlitz Audubon Center
When I've been out in the parks, I've run into many people who volunteer.  I really had no idea just how many people it takes to make programs happen in the parks and nature centers, but I've come to know that it really takes an entire village.  These are the people who lead nature hikes, make apple cider out of apples, show off snakes, clean up weeds and waterways, give cemetery tours, make art projects, share their historical knowledge, and many, many more things.  I'm so grateful to all these people who add extra value to our community.  Ask any of them why they volunteer, and the stories will be as varied as the people who tell them, but the message that comes through strongly is that they believe in the experiences they provide and want others to enjoy the things that they enjoy.

Winter is a good time to reflect on how we can share our passion with others.  If it involves any aspect of the parks (and I'll tell you now that there IS a place for whatever talent you have), I hope you'll find a way to join one of the organizations who help.

The Park People is the main volunteer organization for the Milwaukee County Parks.  They oversee fundraising and provide services that aren't in the county budget.  They want people to be able to enjoy the parks for many years to come so they work with preservation groups, and offer opportunities for people to donate trees, benches, and other structural needs.  Take a look at their website to see how you can be involved.  You can give your time, make a donation, or just learn more about how the parks work directly with the group.

Many of the county parks have friends groups that work to enhance a specific park.  Just to give you an idea, I've been told that the Wehr Nature Center has more than 400 volunteers, but then there are other parks where it's just a handful of individuals who make their local park better by getting involved.  Click on the link for friends groups to get contact information for a park near you.  If there isn't a group, you can always start your own.  If you want to help your village/community parks, contact the village hall for wherever you live.  Havenwoods State Forest has volunteer opportunities for people who want to tend the land or do educational programs.  Lakeshore State Park also has a friends group that helps with events.
A volunteer at an event at Wehr Nature Center helps kids make cider
There are three fabulous Urban Ecology Centers who rely heavily on volunteers to lead programs and help out with projects.  If you live near one and feel you have some extra time on your hands, drop in or contact the volunteer coordinator listed on the site.
Volunteers even show off snakes at the Urban Ecology Center

Do you enjoy gardening or art?  Keep in mind that places like Lynden Sculpture Gardens offer free admission if you help with any of the gardening on certain days.  In the past it has included aquatic planting as well as tending to the flowers.

Schlitz Audubon Center relies on volunteers to do everything from greeting folks at the front desk, to helping out with maintaining the grounds, showing off the lovely birds of prey, and working with students.

Do you enjoy history?  You can share your stories about the famous people who used to live here in Milwaukee at Forest Home Cemetery tours or through the Milwaukee Historical Society events.  Often they need people to dress up in costumes for special historic reenactments.

I hope you'll check out these organizations to find just the right fit for your special talents.  
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