As tourist and vacation season rolls around, many families are making the tough decision to omit this year's family vacation because it's just not in the budget. Some families are staying local, making the "stay-cation" grow in popularity. Other families enjoy camping, hiking, picnicking and other activities that cost little to nothing. But there is another option you may not have considered...volunteerism.
If you don't mind volunteering some time, effort and manpower, volunteer vacations are a great way to get out and explore some of our local, state, and national parks, farms, playgrounds, or cities. Many non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the American Hiking Society will provide food and lodging for a week for volunteers who wish to donate their time, and pay for travel expenses.
American Hiking Society
Visit the Big South Fork River and Recreation Area in Tennessee. Folks age 15 and up will be working on the Twin Arches Bottom Loop trail, building boardwalks on this heavily used trail leading to two naturally formed rock arches. Volunteers must bring their own tents, sleeping bags, cooking gear and utensils, and personal items. A daily 2-mile hike to the work site is rated as moderate, at 1500 feet elevation. During the summer months, the weather is usually warm and humid, with occasional thunderstorms. The American Hiking Society charges a trip fee of $275 for non-member adults and $175 for non-member youth.
Volunteers can help repair erosion damage on heavily used trails in Catoctin Mountain Park, Maryland. Housing is provided at Camp Misty Mount, a rustic cabin site, each furnished with four metal cots. Volunteers age 15 and up must bring a sleeping bag and towels. Standard American Hiking Society trip fees apply.
Children as young as five can participate in a family service project at Pyramid Lake and Galena Creek Park in Nevada. Trips are a mixture of service and recreation, with two main service projects to include clearing graffiti at Pyramid Lake and pulling weeds, and removing brush and fallen trees at Galena Creek Park. Accommodations include a sparsely furnished bunkhouse. The cost is $695 for adults and $595 for children, which includes all meals. Travel costs incurred to get to the park are also the responsibility of each individual or family.
The Klamath National Forest in California is seeking volunteers age 13 and up for a service project involving trail maintenance. The cost is $495 for adults and $395 for kids, which includes all meals and snacks. Participants will be camping in the wilderness, and must bring their own tents, sleeping pads and sleeping bags.
U.S. Forest Service
Passport in Time (PIT) is a free volunteer program run by the USDAs Forest Service. Volunteers work in conjunction with government archaeologists, historians, and other experts on a variety of projects, including archaeological excavations, surveying and restoration of historic sites. Projects range in length from two days to two weeks, with varying accommodations provided. Food, lodging, travel and other expenses are incurred by the volunteers, but there is no other base fee for attending the project.
Washington Trails Association
Visit the Okanagon-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington to work on the South Fork Tieton Trail. Projects include fixing a couple of bridges. Moderate hiking is required, with a 4.5-mile hike to the campsite, and an additional two miles from camp to the work site. Participants must be at least 18 years old, and must go through an application process to be accepted. The fee for the weeklong volunteer experience is $235, which includes meals.
The Washington Trails Association also offers youth volunteer vacations for teens age 14 to 18. Trip fees are $195. There is also a scholarship program for those interested in applying. Volunteers with little experience can participate in one of the front-country trips, where tents, sleeping pads and meals are provided during the weeklong adventure. Interested volunteers with more experience can then participate in the more advanced backcountry trips.
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