Blog Post Alan Spears Nov 30, 2012

Want to Feel Happy and Appreciated? Help Out at a National Park

It’s a joyful, even goofy grin that I’ve learned to look for on the faces of National Park Service staff managing volunteer service projects. It’s a look that says, “You didn’t have to be here today, but you came anyway, and I’m so happy that you did.”

Volunteer Ben

Ben Sander works with NPS staff to fit a post for the new fence.

camera icon Alan Spears/NPCA

I got to see that look first-hand when I joined 11 other staff members from NPCA on a volunteer service project at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia earlier this month. It was our task to help install 120 feet of post and rail fencing along a ridge in the historic lower town. As far as projects go, it was not that complex an operation. Yet with park budgets on the decline and Park Service personnel spread increasingly thin, it was the sort of work that might have gone undone for weeks, months, or even years, had it not been for volunteers and a commitment on the part of the park staff to recruit and manage our labor.

Volunteer Megan

Megan Cantrell uses a post-hole digger.

camera icon Alan Spears/NPCA

In my day job, I work as a legislative representative. I help our champions in Congress and in communities all across the country to advance legislation and policies that benefit our National Park System. As wonderful as that work is, it can often take multiple sessions of Congress and many years to enact a bill or designate a park. Volunteering in a national park provides a more immediate sense of satisfaction. There are 120 feet of historic fencing on a ridge at Harpers Ferry that wasn’t up the morning my colleagues and I arrived. We built that fence together and have the splinters and sore muscles to proudly show for it.

Somewhere, as you read this, there’s a national park with a backlog maintenance project that needs doing. I urge you to lend a hand and help protect the most special places on the American landscape. My colleagues and I can’t wait to go back to Harpers Ferry and help out again. I can already see the smile on the face of the volunteer coordinator.

Get more information on volunteering at

About the author

  • Alan Spears Senior Director of Cultural Resources, Government Affairs

    Alan joined NPCA in 1999 and is currently the Senior Director of Cultural Resources in the Government Affairs department. He serves as NPCA's resident historian and cultural resources expert. Alan is the only staff person to ever be rescued from a tidal marsh by a Park Police helicopter.