Young Environmental Volunteers are Honored

Up a Tree

(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

The end of the year is a time for looking back at all the work that’s been done over the previous 365 days. It’s a time for assessing all of the achievements and successes that have taken place. And a time for recognizing some of the people who have been especially dedicated and determined in their efforts over the past year, who have consistently done impressive or inspiring work. This story out of New Jersey, about a group of environmental volunteers who were recognized, does all of that but it also does something else important at this time of year. It points to the future. These volunteers happen to be middle school students from the Williamstown Middle School Environmental Club, young men and women who are the future of our planet. They are the ones who will inherit it from us and will be charged with protecting and preserving it and every species on it. Looking ahead, we can and must hope that they continue to be passionate about the environment as they become adults and continue the kind of inspiring work they’ve done over the past year.

Year’s End and Another Great Volunteer Story

IMG_0504(photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since I started this blog. In October of 2013, I published my first post, a bit of an introduction to the blog and what I hoped it would achieve. Since then, it has achieved everything that I hoped it would and more. My sincere appreciation and gratitude goes out to everyone who has visited this blog, read a post, favorited or commented on a post, or shared a post on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. My goal was to spread the word about environmental volunteers and we have all done that, everyone of us who has read this blog. If one single person has read a post on this blog and then gone out and volunteered in their own community, then this blog has done exactly what I intended. If this blog has inspired one person to volunteer for our planet and it’s  preservation or protection, then all this work has been worth it. Of course, the work isn’t done. I am going into 2015 just as dedicated to this blog and book about environmental volunteers as ever. The eBook publishing process is well on its way and hopefully Being Where You Are will soon be available to download and read. I invite you to also go back an read previous posts and check out all of the inspiring stories that have been included here. They are all pretty amazing and every volunteer involved deserves our thanks and appreciation.

I’m also going into 2015 with a renewed interest in posting fascinating and unique environmental volunteer stories on this blog. There will, of course, be more stories of river cleanups and trail maintenance and water quality monitoring, all of the tasks that volunteers perform every day, in numerous places. I will also endeavor to find more stories that may be a little outside of the box, in terms of volunteers impacting our natural environment. One example is this great story about the Iowa City Bike Library, and the volunteers who work there. I love the concept of a bike library, where people can rent or borrow bikes, eventually giving up their rental deposit and taking ownership of the bike if they want. It helps to encourage people to ride bikes, rather than driving cars, and it keeps old bikes out of landfills for a while longer. Both of those can and will be beneficial for the local natural environment. While these volunteers may not be doing down-and-dirty work, deep in the wilderness, their work is absolutely having a positive environmental impact.

Check out the Bike Library’s blog to read more about what they do and similar community bike programs in the area.

Birds in the City

ID-100224232(Photo by porbital, courtesy of

by Robert Barossi

To say that humans have completely changed the natural landscape of this planet might be the most obvious statement ever made. In every corner of the globe, in a million different ways, humans have irrevocably altered the habitats of numerous animal species. One of the most devastating changes, in terms of wildlife and their survival, has been the rise of massive cities and metropolitan areas. These urban landscapes have created an entirely new universe for animals to deal with and survive in. In one major metropolitan area, the city of Chicago, there is a group of volunteers doing everything they can to help some of our animal kingdom neighbors.

Dedicated members of the all-volunteer Chicago Bird Collision Monitors are on the streets of Chicago every day, looking for injured birds. According to their website, “Our teams spend the early morning hours recovering these birds to save the injured and document the fatalities that have occurred.” CBCM’s inspiring work provides help to many of the birds who are simply living their natural life in the confusing and dangerous world of the city skyline. The group also provides invaluable information to other people who are interested in helping our feathered friends.

Running Down a Dream


(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Trail maintenance is one of the most common tasks practiced by environmental volunteers. Everywhere there are trails through the wilderness, there is likely an environmental organization or community organization that maintains those trails. And most of that work is likely performed by volunteers, who go out and cut down branches, remove fallen trees, fix water bars and keep the trail safe and accessible. Volunteers get involved in this kind of work for many reasons. For example, one volunteer I met was a passionate bike rider. He loved to ride through the wilderness and was part of a mountain biking group that did a lot of trail maintenance. He had even taken some classes to become a “Trail Boss.” He was passionate about wanting to make sure that the public had access to those trails and wanting the public to know that mountain bikers were out there protecting the trails, and nature, not destroying them.

In this story out of Washington state, there’s a similar group trying to rebuild an historic wilderness trail. Daniel Probst is leading the effort to rebuild and restore a trail that was once part of a famous race, the Mount Baker Marathon. The route has become treacherous for runners still trying to make the journey, or anyone else attempting to simply enjoy the path through the woods. Along with the forest service and volunteers from the Washington Trails Association and Cascade Mountain Runners, the effort is on to clear the trail. The hope is that some time soon, the trail will be able to once again host an ultra-marathon as well as hikers wanting to enjoy the natural beauty of the area.

Volunteers Under the Mistletoe


(photo by digidreamgrafix, courtesy of

by Robert Barossi

The holiday season is without doubt one of my favorite times of year. Whether it’s holiday songs playing on my car’s stereo while navigating snowy streets or houses covered in Christmas lights that fill my neighborhood, I’m a sucker for pretty much anything related to the holiday season. Kissing under the mistletoe is, of course, just one long-standing tradition of the season and this story from San Diego focuses on that famous plant and the legend and lore that surrounds it. It’s also got one of the best titles I’ve seen for a volunteer-related story, “Mistletoe: A Parasite of Peace.” While the article offers lots of information to explain that attention-catching title, it also focuses on a group of volunteers, the Canyoneers. This group of dedicated and passionate volunteers work with the San Diego Natural History Museum and lead area hikes and, every year, sell mistletoe to raise money for their nature programs. Gathering and selling the plant is a holiday season tradition for these volunteers, one that helps them fund some of the great work they do all year round.

More information here on San Diego’s Natural History Museum

Just for fun, a couple of resources I found about the lore and legend of mistletoe, form The Farmer’s Almanac, Smithsonian Magazine and The History Channel

Volunteer Tourists

Underwater Leaves(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

Lately, while searching out stories of environmental volunteers, I’ve noticed the term voluntourism pop up again and again. I realize that this idea has been around a long time. For many years, people have traveled to an area as a tourist and spent their time there working as a volunteer, often for an environmental cause. It seems that lately, the idea is picking up steam and gaining popularity. Here’s one story out of North Carolina, where voluntourists are helping sea turtles.

While these traveling environmental volunteers may be helping out and making a real difference, many are skeptical. This article from NPR discusses the trend and asks “Who is it helping most?” And this article from ABC News in Australia asks more questions about the potential benefits, what they are and who gets them, of voluntourism. And finally, this post on Huffington Post says right in the title, “helping abroad isn’t always helping.”

Interestingly, it’s easier to find stories debating and vilifying voluntourism than find stories about volunteer tourists really helping the environment. I can’t help but think, though, that these traveling environmental volunteers are doing some real good in some places. The question is whether or not that good is outweighed by a number of negative impacts caused by their travel to and presence in a foreign place.

Hall of Fame Volunteers

IMG_0504(Photo by Robert Barossi)

by Robert Barossi

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I have never heard of the Outdoor Hall of Fame. I should say, I’ve never heard of any of them, since there are a number of them, in states including Wyoming, California and Arizona.

Today, I came across this story about the brand new Outdoor Hall of Fame in  Montana and it’s inaugural inductees. While the inductees include outdoor legends of the past like President Theodore Roosevelt, there are also some modern-day citizens who are doing inspiring work in their local area. For example, there is Gerry Jennings, who is described as a “longtime wilderness volunteer,” and “citizen advocate” Chris Marchion. These halls of fame are great ways to recognize the work of people who have had an indelible impact on their local wilderness, including passionate, dedicated volunteers.


A Holiday Volunteer Tradition

ID-100134733(Photo by Tina Phillips, Courtesy of

Every holiday season, thousands of volunteers take part in a massive citizen science project, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. This event, which helps Audubon to track the health of bird populations, is now in its 115th year. Again this year, starting on December 14, tens of thousands of volunteers, in thousands of locations, will explore their local areas, searching for as many birds as they can find and catalog. The invaluable resource created by all the data will be used to inform decisions, policies and research all over the country. It is a yearly tradition for many people, families and organizations, and an undeniably impressive and inspiring environmental volunteer effort.

Here is the official site for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

And more local stories about the Bird Count, in places as different as Montana, New Mexico, Wisconsin and the San Juan Islands