National Public Lands Day encourages volunteerism

By Katie Demeria

Volunteers will have the opportunity to make a real difference in Shenandoah National Park on Saturday while celebrating National Public Lands Day.

Leslie Velarde, volunteer and youth programs coordinator, said Saturday will also be a fee-free day for anyone wishing to visit.

“National Public Lands Day is a national annual event. It’s done with the hope that community members can come to national public land sites to support, through volunteerism, that area,” she said.

Shenandoah National Park in particular has a lot of visitation from local residents and community interest, she said. In order to help those visitors engage with the park, three programs will be offered that day: tree cage building in the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, overlook maintenance, and locust lopping in Big Meadows.

There are a number of opportunities presented throughout the year to volunteers wishing to actively assist park staff and benefit the area.

“There are a lot of areas in the park that we could use help with, because staffing is not always at a number large enough to take care of everything,” Velarde said. “There’s so much work to do, we definitely look forward to the possibility of volunteers providing time and energy.”

Tree cage building, she said, is a fairly light, family friendly activity. Volunteers will build wire tree cages that are then installed in other areas to encourage protected plants to grow without being trampled or eaten by animals.

Volunteers can meet at the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center at 10 a.m. to participate. It is not expected to last longer than 1 p.m.

Overlook maintenance allows for the opportunity to clean the many overlook areas along Skyline Drive. Each has historic walls bordering them, and Velarde said volunteers will help clear the weeds and overgrown vegetation from them.

“Removing those weeds can help preserve the historic look of the walls themselves,” Velarde said.

While the work will be fairly simple, it does require volunteers have the ability to drive from one overlook to the next. She added that it may not be ideal work for children, as it does take place near Skyline Drive, where cars pass frequently.

The final event, locust lopping, requires some upper body strength from those involved. Black locusts need to be managed so they do not overgrow into the Big Meadow area, so volunteers will use park tools to lop the heads of the plants.

Those interested should meet at the Byrd Visitor Center at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Velard pointed out that, after they finish volunteer opportunities, visitors can then take advantage of the fee-free day and enjoy the rest of the day in the park.

“This is a national thing, and it’s a great excuse to take advantage of a fee-free day, but also to come give back to the place where they recreate frequently,” she said. “It’s a great excuse to come out on a beautiful Saturday morning.”

To find out times for the overlook maintenance project, call Velarde at 540-999-3500 ext. 3181.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com