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Date: April 2009

Many Jobs for Open Space Volunteers

by Marilyn Mueller

How about combining your recreational or educational interests with being a volunteer for Jefferson County Open Space? Want to help building a trail? Learn to identify birds? Meet and greet trail users? Help school kids tune in to nature?

The addition of a Volunteer Services Coordinator, in 1995, as a full time staff member has been a key element in the growth, development, land preservation and informational outreach efforts for Jefferson County Open Space. The present coordinator, Jana Johns, provided Plan Jeffco with some impressive volunteer numbers from 2008. Ongoing program volunteers, numbering 432, combined with 592 Special Project volunteers, add up to an impressive 1,024 people. Serving in one or more of a dozen different categories, these volunteers logged 20,356 hours for the year. They served in the following subsections: Acquisition, Building and Construction, Citizen Outreach, Hiwan Homestead Museum, Lookout Mountain Nature Center, Natural Resources, Park Maintenance, Volunteer Services, Ranger Services, Trails, and Planning and Development.

Many Jobs for  Open Space Volunteers by Marilyn Mueller - chart of 2008 volunteer hours

Some volunteers are trained for long term service in many established positions such as Park Patrollers and Hosts, or Tour guides and Naturalists who guide groups of school children or adults visiting the Homestead. Some casual volunteers are from civic groups such as the Scouts, service clubs, or businesses, who request a single, one day project performed in a limited time. One of the latest additions to the program is the formation of Mini Crews Leader volunteers who work on trails during late weekday afternoons once a month, after work. These crews are coordinated by staff and provided with necessary tools, but are trained to work on their own.

Park Patrollers and Park Hosts make up the largest number of volunteers. Patrollers commit to 40 hours per year and cover the major trails of our parks, hiking, biking or on horseback. They are ready to inform or assist those using the park, reminding visitors of trail etiquette and safety rules such as keeping dogs on leash. They have been trained in First Aid and CPR should they encounter any accidents or emergencies.

The Park Hosts are the information "specialists" of the program and stay within two miles of the park entrances, (for most of their time,) ready to answer questions or give directions. They also assist with visitor experience surveys to provide information about park use and visitor satisfaction. Presently, there are close to 150 patrollers and 50 hosts.

Plan Jeffco talked with Linda Knudson who, along with her husband Walt, have been Park Hosts for many years. She explained that although they commit to 35 hours a year, when and where they put in that time is up to them. They do report to their supervisor when and to what park they are going and the time spent on that particular trip. They are usually bird watching while on duty and so get questions about that specialized activity. They thoroughly enjoy meeting the many different park visitors and find their hosting to be a very positive experience.

The interpretive, educational and tour needs at the Lookout Mtn. Nature Center and Preserve are being assisted by 80 volunteers.

Volunteers man the information desk, greet visitors, take school groups on tour and help with public outreach programs. In 2008, a combined total of 30,205 visitors came to the Nature Center, which was staffed by volunteers 80% of the time. Within those numbers, 4,815 school children attended programs led by volunteers 60% of the time and 9,153 people attended various public and outreach programs led by staff with volunteer assistance much of the time.

Alice Kruse has been a volunteer at the center for 21 years, starting her service when the Nature Center was in the former carriage house of the Boettcher Mansion. Now she is usually at the information desk or showing visitors around the exhibits. As an expert bird watcher, she conducts a special tour at Crown Hill Park on International Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday in May.

At Hiwan Homestead Museum, volunteers serve as Tour Guides, Receptionists, Instructors, and behind the scenes in a variety of school and adult programs and other related functions. The museum hosted 16,543 visitors in 2008, and presently has 65 volunteers.

Some volunteer positions with Open Space are more behind the scenes and do not deal with the public. There is an Avian Census program which monitors the relation of bird species to different habitats in five of our parks. They are: Van Bibber, Lair O’ the Bear, Meyer Ranch, White Ranch and Mount Falcon. These parks are monitored in May, June and July, the most active months when migrating birds have arrived and selected territory for the summer and joined those who stay year 'round in nesting and raising their young. One area at Crown Hill has been mapped as a grid and includes a restricted pond area as well as surrounding habitats. In this way, bird and water fowl sighting locations in relation to habitat are more precisely recorded.

Other birders enter into a Cliff Nesting Raptor observation effort monitoring the populations of the Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, Peregrine Falcon and Red Tail Hawk. They locate nesting raptors and keep watch for several weeks to observe the number of nestlings. They even attempt to observe if and when those nestlings fledge and successfully leave the nest. This job starts in the middle of February or March and lasts into July. Volunteers and staff are watching around 35 nests and 10 falcon ledges at this time. (Falcons use a depression on the ledge, not much of a nest.) One ledge has been claimed by a Great Horned Owl, which is unusual because they usually nest in trees, often reusing and repairing an old nest.

There has been an installation of bird nest boxes at Meyer Ranch, hopefully to attract blue birds, (Western and Mountain.) Volunteers checking on the boxes have found other Inhabitants as well, including swallows, wrens and even mice, or hornets, as well as blue birds.

Natural Resources would like to expand the number of bird census volunteers. Since some specialized skill is required, they are utilizing a computer software training program to assist newcomers with their identification skills, as well as pairing them with experienced mentors.

Volunteers are recruited to work on building and maintaining trails on one of four days during the summer and early autumn. These are single day projects, starting work at 8 a.m. and lasting until 3 p.m. Tools and breakfast are provided, along with on-the-job training by Trails staff. Work days for this year are: June 6, July 18, Sept. 12, and Oct. 10. Try to register 3 days ahead by calling 303-271-5922.

Three other special project jobs that have used volunteers are: Weed Population Monitors, Forest Steward fire mitigation helpers, and park clean ups.

In order to handle the coordination of such a widespread range of volunteer services, Jana works with a group of 13 staff members, who serve as volunteer supervisors to their ongoing volunteers. These supervisors are responsible for position-specific training and day to day interaction with their team of volunteers. But the list of Jana’s responsibilities is lengthy. Examples of a few of the items are: Recruitment, screening and placement of volunteers, determining the direction of the volunteer program, publishing the quarterly newsletter, planning and execution of the yearly recognition event, maintaining the website information for volunteer opportunities and overseeing the volunteer input of logged hours and data base records.

As a matter of interest, Jana graduated from West Texas A & M University with a degree in English, including courses in technical writing. In the strange ways of the world, this degree led her to public relations jobs and volunteer management from the beginning, which eventually led to Colorado and Open Space and coordinating this program. Another vocation of hers is playing drums and singing in the Cara Cantarella Band at different venues in the area.

Meeting the goals of Open Space in creating, developing and preserving large public open spaces, connecting trails to natural and cultivated parks in our county as well as providing interpretive and educational awareness for our citizens is a challenging task which could only be done with the contributions of such a well designed integrated volunteer organization.

For more information:


e-mail: osvol@jeffco.us

For the Nature Center:

Alicia Vermillia 720-497-7600

For Hiwan Homestead:

Sue Asbaugh 720-497-7650

For other Volunteering:

Jana Johns 303-271-5922

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