volunteer vacation, hiking volunteer, trail volunteer
AP/Margaret Lillard
Volunteers work on an erosion control device on a trail in Oregon during a volunteer vacation
organized by the American Hiking Society.

Inspired by Earth Day, Nature-Focused Volunteer Vacations

April 22, 2009
by Sarah Amandolare
Earth Day is just one day, but its message of environmental awareness is something we’d all benefit from remembering throughout the year. For those eager to dip a toe in the volunteer vacation pool, there are a variety of eco-focused opportunities that can help you commemorate Earth Day every day.

Helpful Hiking

American Hiking Society offers volunteer vacations on trails across the country. Each project lasts for one week, and all that you’ll have to bring is camping equipment and an adventurous spirit—the organization also suggests having “a willingness to get dirty” while cleaning and performing maintenance work on the trails. The registration cost for nonmembers is $275, and includes membership in the society. Participants must cover the cost of travel and equipment expenses.

The diversity of American Hiking Society’s offerings is described in further detail with registration information on the Web site. In the Hawaii Nature Center in Maui’s Iao Valley, for example, help clear and maintain the 35-plus acres of tropical rainforest, where environmental education classes and rainforest hikes are held. This project begins in September 2009, and requires 20 volunteers.
Travel south to Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains for a volunteer vacation hosted by the Cumberland Trail Conference. Participants will aid completion of a connecting trail from Cove Lake State Park to Frozen Head State Park in an area located approximately one hour northwest of Knoxville. This trip begins in late May 2009 and calls for 25 volunteers.

Another plus? American Hiking Society has recently joined forces with Sustainable Travel International to offer calculation and neutralization of your CO2 emissions while volunteer traveling, a practice known as carbon offsetting.

Volunteer Vacations in Ecuador

The Global Volunteer Network (GVN) has volunteer vacations around the world. In light of the recent volcanic eruption in the Galapagos Islands, one program in particular seems especially crucial. According to GVN, there are “few countries” in the world with “such a desperate need for conservation as Ecuador.” Over the past 50 years, more than 99 percent of the flora and fauna on Ecuador’s strip of Pacific coastline has disappeared. GVN projects address needs in six biological reserves in Ecuador, with a focus on “biodiversity conservation, community development and sustainable use of natural resources.”

Specific areas in need of volunteers include plant conservation; sustainable income generation; supporting local research, such as data collection; and wildlife, such as monitoring of birds and bears.

Information about the six reserves, as well as program dates and costs, including information on potential airline discounts, is detailed on the Global Volunteer Network “Volunteer in Ecuador” page. GVN programs can become expensive; there is a $350 application fee, and the minimum program cost (for two weeks) is $527. Programs in San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands cost more than the others.

A Broader View has solid advice for how to raise money for your volunteer vacation, including how to approach companies and potential donors. Creative fundraising ideas, including media and local business involvement, are also detailed.

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