Here in Boulder, we love our trails. We hike, bike, and run them. We walk our dogs on them. We raise our children on them. We take thousands of photos on them. We proudly show them off to our visiting friends and family. We feel that the trails themselves are family. They are a part of us and a part of why we love living here. It makes sense that we are so deeply connected to our trails, because the preservation of them is, and has always been, a true community effort.
The City of Boulder began protecting its open space in 1898. And for as long as Boulder’s been protecting its open space, local volunteers have been devoting their time and energy to maintaining it. These volunteers are Boulderites like you and me – they love our trail system, use it on a regular basis, and want to give back to the community by lending a hand. Today, Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) is comprised of over 45,000 acres and includes 145 miles of trails. These lands have an annual visitation of 5.3 million per year. Maintaining these lands is no small feat, particularly in our post-flood world. I spoke with Jennelle Freeston, OSMP’s Coordinator of Volunteer Services, to learn more about Open Space’s volunteers and what they do.
What is the history of OSMP’s volunteer program?
The City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks has a rich history of volunteerism. In the late 1800s, volunteers from the community built the first trails in the newly established Mountain Parks system. For more than 100 years, volunteers have been contributing time and effort to building trails and constructing some of the historic shelters. OSMP’s formal volunteer programs have been in place since the 1980s, providing residents a way to contribute and give back to the land through stewardship projects and programs.
How has the flood impacted the way the program is managed and how you utilize volunteers?
The OSMP Department has always valued any contribution from volunteers, and many staff chose to work with volunteers. In the days after the flood, we received an outpouring of support that exceeded anything that we had experienced in the past. OSMP staff jumped to the occasion and organized as many projects as we could in response to the flood. We have continued to build the OSMP Volunteer Program by offering more projects, and increasing staff capacity to support those projects. The 2013 Floods brought the OSMP volunteer program to the forefront.
How many volunteers do you have currently and how many hours of work are they responsible for annually?
We have a robust volunteer program. Since the September 2013 flood, we have had over 1,500 volunteers take part in over a hundred, single-day volunteer projects (both flood and non-flood related). Volunteers come to us from local businesses and organizations, schools, and as individual community members. In addition, each year, we have about 350 program volunteers who commit to on-going, longer-term assignments. We could not accomplish many projects and programs without assistance from volunteers.
What types of work do OSMP volunteers do?
Volunteers restore natural habitats, pull noxious weeds, build trails, clear agricultural ditches and fence line, greet visitors on trails, monitor wildlife, lead interpretive hikes, monitor rare plants and much more. Two of OSMP’s most recognized volunteer programs are the Raptor Monitoring Program, which was one of the first of its kind, and the award-winning, state recognized Volunteer Naturalist Program, which requires over 70 hours of training before volunteers are able to lead hikes.
I understand that some volunteers might help with a one-time project, whereas others contribute regularly on a long-term basis. How long have some of your long-term volunteers been with OSMP?
OSMP volunteers span in age from 8 to 80, and some have volunteered with OSMP for over twenty years. Some of our long-term volunteers sign up for multiple projects and programs each year. They really go above and beyond. We are grateful for the dedication of our long-term program volunteers. As a thank-you, we do our best to keep them informed, and properly trained. We also organize potlucks for the volunteers to be able to meet each other and share their experiences. We are continually impressed and inspired by their dedication to the land and the mission of OSMP.
Do you foresee any future changes to the volunteer program? How do you see it evolving in the coming years?
We will continue building the scope of our volunteer projects and programs in the years ahead. We hope to reach out to broader audiences, both here in Boulder and across the Denver Metro area. We are always looking for new ways to get the word out about our volunteer opportunities!
Are you currently looking for new volunteers? Where would someone go to learn about open volunteer opportunities?
Yes! We are currently recruiting for one-day volunteer projects, as well as longer-term commitments. Anyone interested in volunteering can go here for more information.
Thank you so much for your time, Jennelle, and for all you do to help protect and preserve our open space.
Photo Credit: Alli Fronzaglia