Alan Kushner, 75, paints stripes at the Wrights Lake campground as part of his volunteer service with the Eldorado National Forest. Kushner is one of 1,038 volunteers who worked on forest projects in 2018. Courtesy photoMore than 1,000 volunteers provided nearly $1 million in service hours to the Eldorado National Forest in 2018, according to the forest’s annual volunteer report issued late last month.
The dollar figure comes from a $24.69 per-hour value of volunteer service established by Independent Sector, a coalition of nonprofit organizations. Volunteers in the Eldorado National Forest logged 36,493 hours in 2018, the report said.
According to the report, 470 of this year’s hours came from Camino resident Alan Kushner, 75, who has volunteered in the Eldorado National Forest for at least a decade. Every spring, he and wife Patty, who works in the information center at the Crystal Basin Ranger Station, take their camp trailer up to the area where Kushner works on facility repairs, mentoring younger people and showing them how to fix tools and structures.
He also takes photos of workers that the National Forest uses in service group presentations, but Kushner said mentoring and teaching the younger workers is what he likes most, since it gives him a chance to make use of his experience. Kushner, who also serves as a county chaplain, said before retirement he worked for the Western Electric Company installing communication systems for 37 years.
“I enjoy working with the young people and it gives me something to do. I’m up and about,” he said. “Before doing this I had a lot of medical problems and wasn’t getting enough exercise. This gets me up and out and moving most of the day. I feel a whole lot better and am doing a whole lot better.”
The report recognized specific individuals like Kushner and more than 50 local service groups who worked on projects in recreation, wilderness, trail maintenance, historical and cultural resources, natural resources and visitor services. As far as actual projects, volunteers engage in things like trail maintenance, wildlife and cultural surveys, campground hosting, snow grooming, weeding and working public events.
In 2018, trail service was the most popular category among volunteers with 265 people, while those working in visitor services logged the most time, at 8,256 hours. History and cultural resources was the service category with the lowest number of volunteers and hours logged, with one person, Genevieve Cameron, making up more than a quarter of the 864 total hours.
In terms of what opportunities await volunteers and prospective volunteers in 2019, the Eldorado National Forest said it seeks those to work in volunteer program management, where lead volunteers assist staff with projects, recruit and put together a newsletter and annual report. Opportunities for general forest work include taking photos, video production, light maintenance on non-wilderness trails and forest cleanup.
One reason Kushner said he feels volunteer work is important is because it saves the United States Forest Service money.
“Most employees are seasonal and they don’t have the experience necessary to do some of the things they’re asked to do,” Kushner said. “If I wasn’t volunteering, they’d have to call plumbers, they’d have to call electricians … it’s very expensive and right now (the Forest Service) is spending all their money fighting fires.”
Due to the federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22, 2018, representatives from the Eldorado National Forest could not be reached for comment by press time.
CLICK HERE to see the original article and photos in the Mountain Democrat newspaper, story by MacKenzie Myers