Mount Rainier National Park is marking the 20th and final year of work by volunteers who annually have traveled the farthest to help maintain the park.
Officials said last Wednesday that park staff will celebrate with present and past members of the Japanese Volunteers-in-Parks Association (J-VIPA) and thank them for the contributions to the park each of the past 20 summers from delegations of students and other individuals from Japan.
The completed projects have been numerous, including the ADA-accessible boardwalk at Kautz Creek; repairing and rehabilitating campsites throughout the park; trail repair on the Westside Road; building the ADA trail near the Jackson Visitor Center; and planting projects. In the process, they built lifetime friendships and memories while staying with park employees and host families.
This year is the final one for the volunteer program, the longest-serving international volunteer group for the National Park Service. It began as an international volunteer experience in 1993 coordinated by Hiro Yamaguchi with Waseda University in Tokyo. Several national parks in the U.S. were asked if they could use volunteers from Japan. Mount Rainier National Park responded favorably, and in 1994 the first group arrived. Since then, 380 people have contributed 22,656 hours of service – the equivalent of about $501,600 in paid labor.
Their “hard work and dedication” on repairs and improvements “will benefit the park for many years to come,” said park superintendent Randy King.
J-VIPA has also sent volunteers to national parks in other states, including Hawaii Volcanoes and Glacier in Montana. They’ve volunteered in their own country, too.