This March, Montana is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the creation of AmeriCorps, the national service program that addresses critical community needs across the United States.
The National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 established the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency, to oversee and support national service programs and community volunteerism. In 1994, President Clinton swore in the first AmeriCorps members and since then more than 1 million Americans have served throughout our nation.
At Montana State Parks, our mission is to preserve and protect our state’s heritage and the natural beauty of our public lands for the benefit of our families, communities, local economies and out-of-state visitors. For almost a decade, the Montana State Parks AmeriCorps program has helped us achieve this goal. Our service members enrich our parks and expand the capacity of the Parks Division by providing interpretative and educational programming, improving park land, recruit volunteers and connect with communities across Montana.
Since its inception in 2012, Montana State Parks AmeriCorps members have made outstanding contributions to our parks and communities in every corner of our state. They have improved 3,500 acres of State Park land, managed over 4,000 park volunteers, and conducted over 3,000 community outreach activities. AmeriCorps members have also delivered more than 4,500 educational programs to more than 100,000 state park visitors!
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While Montana and our state parks have realized the benefits of AmeriCorps members’ activities, we are also deeply committed to developing our members. We believe that by training and investing in our AmeriCorps members, we are building a new, diverse generation of stewards for our state park system and the broader fields of natural resource conservation and cultural preservation. Our members also have incredible opportunity to implement what they learn during their year of service with Montana State Parks.
A prime example of the impact of a single AmeriCorps member can have was seen at the 2019 Earth Day Celebration and workday at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. This AmeriCorps organized event brought together four local non-profits, REI Bozeman, and Jefferson County Weed District to host 97 volunteers who in turn completed 388 hours of volunteer service in a single morning. This effort opened more than 9 miles of trail for some of the earliest mountain biking available in Montana and removed over five acres of spotted knapweed. REI’s employees and community volunteers have supported this event for the last three years and REI’s Outreach Coordinator Teresa Larson observed that because of AmeriCorps members’ efforts “the volunteers have fun and leave with a sense of accomplishing real, meaningful work on this wonderful trail system.”
Other members’ efforts drastically expand our capacity to educate Montanans and our visitors about our state’s phenomenal resources. Teresa Wenum, a Conservation Education Specialist for the Flathead National Forest noted that “area teachers and other informal educators have shared how valuable and skilled the AmeriCorps members have been in planning and leading classroom field trips and providing, fun, educational community programs for youth. AmeriCorps members have allowed parks and forests to offer additional quality youth programming, an important service that helps all educators keep kids connected to nature and with their local sense of place.”
At Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, we believe the “Outside is in us all” and know that State Parks AmeriCorps members have kindled that fire in our youth, volunteers, visitors, communities and staff. They have increased our agency’s capacity to manage our parks and become young champions for the protection of State Parks into the future. This year, Montana State Parks celebrates the creation of AmeriCorps, a program that has strengthened Montana, our state parks, and in turn created more vibrant communities throughout Montana.
Beth Shumate is the parks division administrator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.
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