By Serina Tabisola

CVA at the National Mall and Memorial Parks

Inaugural Voluntour Participants (Photo credit: Charles Fouke)


The National Capital Region is a unique region of the National Park Service. Our range expands from the National Mall northwest to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and as far south as Prince William Forest Park, VA. Due to how close everyone is, we can show not only our personal park’s volunteers, but volunteers from our entire region just how much we appreciate them. So we created a new program: Voluntours!

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We love our volunteers!

The inaugural trip of the Voluntours program was a behind-the-scenes tour of a normally restricted area of Prince William Forest, the formal training grounds of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). I organized this special tour with the help of Park Rangers from Prince William Forest and the cooperation of all the volunteer coordinators within the region. Together, we could bring over 20 volunteers from various parks together for this very special event.

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Volunteers learning about Prince William Forest (Photo Credit: Victoria Tucker)

We started our visit at 10 A.M., with an introduction to Prince William Forest and our itinerary for the day. The first part of our tour was a short hike of trail towards some OSS artifacts, including XYZ and ABC. While the hike was short and since it was off trail, we did have to worry about such things as ticks, uneven pavement, and whacking tree branches. Luckily, our volunteers were experienced enough with the National Park Service to be wary of all the obstacles. Personally, after the first tree branch, I figured it out.

During the hike, the rangers talked about the intertwined history of the OSS and Prince William Forest. Prior to the presence of the forest, the area we were walking towards was once an open area that was perfect for training new operatives. Our volunteers were showed just why this area was once an ideal training ground. The success of the forest is exemplified by its ability to camouflage the artifacts; the rangers themselves were having a hard time finding the artifacts.

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Our ranger talking about the bunkers

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Our volunteers really getting into their tour

On the way out, we learned how the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a predecessor to such programs as the SCA, planted what would become the forest today.

After lunch, we toured the cabins. Originally used by the OSS as sleeping quarters, dining quarters, and the infirmary, now these cabins can be rented out to visitors who want to spend the night in the forest. We also learned about some famous OSS agents, including the oldest OSS at the time and a woman who had lost her leg and was the point person for spies in France.

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Ranger talk about history of OSS

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Entering the dining cabin

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Sleeping cabins

This hike was a great way to introduce volunteers to other parks within the region. Now, at their sites, when they interact with guests, they can talk not only about their respective parks but other nearby parks, inviting guests to the National Park Service to explore beyond the well visited parks and get a clearer picture of the beauty and history of the United States. This also gave our volunteers a chance to interact with their colleagues from different parks. These meet-ups allow them to get to know people from all over the region, and learn more about the other NCR parks. With the program scheduled to continue throughout 2017 and hopefully beyond, this is a great way to show our volunteers just how much we care about them!

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Such an engaged audience. Everyone is having a great time!