Our national park story began in 2006 when we sold our house north of Houston and bought a fifth-wheel camper trailer and a Dodge truck, driving off in search of good temperatures and opportunities to volunteer at national parks and church camps. Prior to retiring, my wife Diane had been an elementary art teacher for ten years and I was a university professor. We have been blessed with a good life and health and wanted to give something back in service.
I contacted eight national parks and five of them offered to provide us full-hookup RV space in return for 16 to 22 hours of volunteer work each week. Heading to the Southeast, we decided to volunteer near the Blue Ridge Parkway and at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Summer 2012 found us at Mt. Pisgah off of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville, North Carolina, where we worked evenings, keeping the campground office open after the rangers left. The people there were great to work with and it provided an opportunity to work closely with the rangers, placing people in the campground and collecting money.
In the fall of 2012, we worked at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in Kentucky, helping staff the visitor center and assisting with the Gap Cave tours. The visitors we met were impressed and surprised at the beauty and history of the park. We enjoyed providing visitors with brochures, maps, details, suggestions and sharing the park’s history with them. The park staff treated us like part of the park family.
Many parks have homecoming or heritage events with volunteers dressed in period costumes demonstrating the skills, trades, and food that shaped the lives of early settlers. This past September, Cumberland Gap’s "Homespun Appalachia" festival drew approximately 3,000 children and adults. It is amazing what the interpretative rangers are able to accomplish with demonstrations and historical information when they do programs for schools and the public.
The National Park Service budget has been cut many times and one way to help is to volunteer. Our experience volunteering with the Park Service has been excellent and we HIGHLY recommend that others try it. I hope that many others will visit national parks and see that we all need to work and volunteer to keep the parks open and offering great programs.
David and Diane Henderson spent the winter in Texas and are planning their next national park trip and volunteer adventure. They are among the 250 volunteers who contribute more than 30,000 hours of volunteer work at Cumberland Gap each year. For more info on Volunteers in Parks, see this informative Park Service brochure (PDF, 6.5 MB).
- Watch The Other Side of the Clouds, NPCA's video about Henk and Georgia Parsons, volunteers at Yosemite National Park.
- Learn more about NPCA's Southeast Regional Office.
- Learn more about Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.