So it’s that time again. It’s summer vacation, and you’re not exactly sure where you’re going to stay during the break. Save money by moving back in with mom and dad? Pay rent all summer that your scholarships didn’t cover? These are not decisions for the faint of heart. But what if there’s another rent-free solution, and it involves actual buffaloes and hot springs? It seems you do want to know more.
America’s national parks have grown to number over 400 since President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act of 1916. (Fact: Yellowstone was the very first national park!) However, few people are aware that American national parks offer an exceptional opportunity for students who want to gain experience in the ecological field during the summer. By living and working onsite during the busy season, volunteers receive free meals and lodging from the National Park Service. That’s right: All expenses paid, no worries for the summer! The Volunteers in Park (VIP) Program has got you covered.
Towering mountains, crystal lakes, majestic animals in their natural habitats — not exactly something you see everyday in the dorms, now is it? Adventures await applicants looking to take advantage of this little known but highly affordable summer excursion. Participants have described a rewarding process in personal development and resume building, and this is definitely relevant if you’re thinking about a major in environmental science or biology. The inspiration here is endless – especially if you read Henry David Thoreau in English Lit 101 this past semester. Aspiring poets can apply too!
Hands on experience during the program may include eliminating invasive plant species, serving as a campground host for diverse visitors hoping to learn more about ecology, and even testing water quality to help conserve our nation’s most pristine natural forests and lakes. Every park has its own special needs, and volunteers should be flexible. Hey, why not?
Double Bonus: The Interagency Pass Program through the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management provides a volunteer pass for free admission with up to three friends in national parks across the country for continued exploration throughout the year! You’ve got winter break, spring break, and summer vacation covered here, in one easy step. Nice!
For more information about volunteer opportunities at park locations throughout the United States (including Guam and some Caribbean Islands), please browse the National Park Service site for current listings. Happy camping, everyone!