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By Roberta Dorsch

ELCR’s National Office receives routinely calls regarding volunteering at state facilities.  The following article may offer guidance in setting up formal volunteer programs.

uphill trail no creditIn 1992 the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, State Forest and Park Service developed a Volunteer Ranger Program.  Many of our volunteers had devoted many hours at the various state parks.  This program provided another method to keep the spark alive, and to expand their service.

The Volunteer Ranger program has been well received.  Each year we hold a training session in a central location of the state.  The new Volunteer Rangers are required to attend; many of the experienced ones and even staff also attend.  The Volunteer Ranger’s provide another uniformed appearance in the parks.  They can also be found working with the rangers on various projects such as boundary markings and patrolling the facilities.  At this point, Maryland has over 170 Volunteer Rangers across the state.

To become a Volunteer Ranger the individual must meet a series of requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Have no criminal record (we ask for permission to do a background/fingerprint check)
  • Have a valid driver’s license.
  • Have served as a volunteer for at least 40 hours.
  • Be available to work weekends and holidays.
  • Attend Volunteer Ranger training (a one-day training).
  • Make a commitment of 100 hours each year.
  • Attend other trainings as needed for the duties each is assigned.

Training of the Volunteer Rangers is multi-level.  The Orientation training is done in a day session at one of the state parks.  Included in this training are topics such as NCBI Exercise (National Coalition Building

Trail volunteers credit Deb Balliet smaller

Photo credit: Deb Balliet

Institute, a program which works to eliminate prejudice and intergroup conflict).  Leave No Trace and Play Safe Programs, Resource Management (dealing with the large population of Canada Geese that are in our parks), Skills to Protect the National Resources, role playing of situations with which the volunteer must deal.  The parks offer additional training that the Volunteer Rangers are strongly encouraged to attend.  These include First Aid, CPR, Driver Improvement, radio procedures (the Volunteer Rangers use 2-way radios while they are on duty), traffic control, report/incident writing, and Scales and Tales (working with the live animals), Hunter Safety, and Natural Resources Laws and Regulations.  Records are maintained of all the trainings that a Volunteer attends.

We (State Forest and Park Service) supply each Volunteer Ranger with a pair of long pants (tan), long-sleeved and short-sleeved shirts (tan) and a hat (saying “Volunteer Ranger”).  The volunteer is responsible for the shoes, socks and belt (brown or black – all the same).

The supervision of the Volunteers is handled differently in different parks.  Usually the Volunteer Coordinator is the person who has this responsibility.  There are some facilities that have assigned a ranger this duty.  The Volunteer Coordinator is responsible for maintaining all records of the training taken and hours worked.

Some of the Volunteer Rangers have gone to one of the two specialty units – Volunteer Mounted Patrol (horseback) and Volunteer Bike Patrol.  These Volunteer Rangers attend a much more intense training.  The Volunteer Mounted Patrol began in 1997.

At this point we have four active units around the state.  The Volunteer Bike Patrol began in 2000 and there are two active units.  There are additional parks requesting these programs.

Some of the duties of the Volunteer Rangers include:

  • As a team, patrol the campground on weekends.
  • Pull a regular shift on the park ranger rotation.
  • Present interpretative programs.
  • Assist the staff in playground inspections.
  • Traffic control.
  • Assist at statewide events when extra staff is needed – such as Bluegrass concerts, opening of a Jack Nicklaus golf course, and other large events.

Each year every Volunteer Range has an evaluation, which is completed by the supervision of the Volunteer Rangers at that park.  The actual evaluation is retained at the park.

The Volunteer Rangers perform many of the same duties as the Rangers, except for law enforcement.  They have proven that they are truly the extra pair of eyes and ears that are needed in the state forests and parks.

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This program could be duplicated in other agencies.  The current volunteer program would need to be assessed to:

  • Identify the work areas where the volunteers could take more of a leadership role.
  • Develop a close working relationship with the staff.  At no time can the staff feel that their jobs/responsibilities are in jeopardy.
  • Identify a core group of dedicated volunteers who can assist in the development of a trial run of the program.
  • Develop some outward “sign” that these volunteers have reached another level in the organization, and that they are proud to be wearing their uniform/hat/other visible symbol.
  • Take is slow – and steady.  The first several years may be shaky – and then all of a sudden you will find that people are asking to be part of the group.  PATIENCE, PATIENCE!!

Roberta Dorsh is the State Forest and Park Service (Maryland Department of Natural Resources) Volunteer Coordinator.  She has been staff at the State Forest and State Park Service since 1990, and in the volunteer field for many years, starting with the Girl Scouts in 1977.  E-mail address: