On Saturday September 24th I experienced my first volunteer event that I had a large hand in planning. There were both successes and difficulties. Overall the day was a learning experience in many areas of my position, and I am glad for the experience. Read on to hear what I learned and how it all went down.

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The group that volunteered at Ft. Hunt Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway on September 24th, 2016 in honor of National Public Lands Day, with the clean Mt. Vernon Battery in the background

As a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) I am responsible for planning and hosting volunteer events on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, and a “cannot miss” event every year is National Public Lands Day. National Public Lands Day (NPLD) is a service day created by NEEF, the National Environmental Education Foundation, which encourages people to volunteer their time and effort to a public land. This not only ensures critical work necessary to maintain public lands is accomplished but also fosters a sense of stewardship and responsibility in the local community as they care for their public lands. I partnered with an existing friends group to care for Ft. Hunt historical park, located on the southern end of the Parkway near Mt. Vernon.

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Two boy scouts clipping the trails around the Mt. Vernon Battery back to increase the safety of the trails and make them more accessible to visitors

The friends group, Friends of Ft. Hunt Park Inc., was hosting their yearly event “Community Day at Ft. Hunt” and scheduled it for the same day as NPLD! I proposed that we make the event bigger, collaborate, and incorporate NPLD into this event. The goal would remain the same: clean the batteries of the Fort by removing trash and invasive vegetation. We planned big and estimated that we could accommodate 150 volunteers. I involved the entire CVA team at George Washington Memorial Parkway (thanks guys!) and we planned fun activities for families to do during the registration period in the morning, gathered and inventoried tools to be used during the day, and of course, advertised the opportunity on my park’s social media.

The morning, during registration, is the only part of the day that we experienced difficulties. It was unclear who was the lead for the day. Four different people served in some capacity as the “de-facto” leader. One person knew how the numbering system worked for breaking the volunteers into groups, another knew how the tools would be distributed, and yet another knew specifically what part of the volunteers forms would need to be filled out. This lead to confusion and delays in registering our volunteers, and organizing them into their groups. Eventually, of course, by working together we were able to sort everything out and we got started on our service projects.

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A part of the Mt. Vernon Battery  volunteer cleaning crew removing trash, dirt and debris from the battery

I learned from this experience that more details need to be specified before the event, perhaps through a final briefing meeting. This would have ensured the person who knew about the numbering system was at the registration table greeting people and assigning them their numbers, instead of standing by the tools. I also learned to set up early! Really early. People arrive early to these events and we were still setting our tables. Finally, I learned to have a point person. This person would know how every moving piece that day was going to work, and while they can certainly delegate, it’s important that one person knows everything that is going on during the event.

Onto the good stuff! The day was a success! With around 50 volunteers, we were able to clean the Mt. Vernon battery of trash and vegetation totaling 1089 gallons! The vegetation collected also includes debris from clearing trails to make them more accessible for visitors and we built 11 picnic tables to replace some old run-down picnic tables around the park. It was a beautiful day in the park, sunny and cool, and we had no injuries or accidents (a top priority for volunteer events!). The cooperation between the friends group and the staff of my park, fostered new relationships and will hopefully lead to more joint projects in the future.

Joining us on NPLD and Community Day at Ft. Hunt were many boy and girl scout groups, and some of them proposed completing a service project with us in the future or even starting a volunteer group at their schools to come back! This in many ways was probably the greatest success coming out of our NPLD. We inspired the next generation of stewards and that ensures that our parks are protected and cared for in the long-run.

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The group that volunteered at Ft. Hunt Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway on September 24th, 2016 in honor of National Public Lands Day, with the clean Mt. Vernon Battery in the background

So while the morning did not run as smoothly as hoped and the number of people in attendance was not as high as it could have been, we all had a great day and really made a difference to the beauty and longevity of our local park. Most importantly for me as a CVA, I learned some dos and don’ts along the way which will make my next event even better! Help me out and comment below telling me how you organize large events with lots of logistics.

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The CVA team of George Washington Memorial Parkway after a day of hard work at Ft. Hunt Park
Quinn Conlan, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia