I hold a part-time summer job at the National Park Service in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, which is nearby to my home in Milford, PA. The national park system is a unique way all Americans can connect with our country.
When I arrived at work the other day (I collect tolls and distribute information at a booth along a 20-mile stretch of road that cuts through the park), a memo sat by the cash register: To: All Department of Interior Employees; From: Secretary; Subject: United We Serve. What a revelation.
Just a short time ago, I sat in an audience hearing from the First Lady about the idea that this summer, service would become an activity of all Americans. Now, two months later, a memo from the DOI Secretary announces a “call to action for all employees to participate in United We Serve and commit to a volunteer service goal this summer.” Whether it is taking a child fishing or organizing a team to restore a trail, the Secretary said, the Department could become the “standard-bearer for volunteerism and service by Federal Employees.”
And for this memo to make it from Washington to my little shack in the middle of nowhere, the commitment to that goal is evident. While I am sometimes skeptical of the meat behind these high-publicity national initiatives with great names, this was evidence of how seriously the Administration is taking their service priority.
Beyond Federal Employees, I see so many ordinary people volunteering in our park. I recently had the opportunity to hear from the Student Conservation Corps–a group of students who dedicate time to live and work within areas of environmental significance in our country. They were excited to share their work and agenda for improving the park this summer. And as I write this, two mini-vans of volunteers are pulled to the side of the road as volunteers work on trail expansion, connecting two wonderful parts of our park together.
Our annual River Cleanup is coming up on July 22. Last year, we ran out of canoes to provide volunteers because the response was so great. People give a day to float down the pristine waters of the Delaware River and remove trash and debris. Our park’s Superintendent reminds us that our overriding mission is to ensure our great children will be able to canoe down the river and have the exact same experience we had.
Volunteers like the ones at the River Cleanup make that possible. What I have witnessed in this 72,000 acre National Park gives real meaning to the saying that the government can’t do it alone. We don’t have a second chance at national resource conservation, making the role of citizen service in our national parks that much more critical. United We Serve is a golden opportunity to spread this message.